Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Samarkand to Delhi: Timurid-Mughal 21st century connection

Gur-e Amir, Timur's mausoleum, Samarkand
Gur-e Amir, Timur's mausoleum, Samarkand
Hamayun was the 2nd Mughal Emperor of India and a direct descendant of the great conqueror and Uzbek national hero, Amir Timur. On his death in 1555, Hamayun's widow commissioned his mausoleum to be modelled on Gur-e Amir, Timur's mausoleum in Samarkand.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is undertaking conservation works on the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi. Its challenge has been to replicate the tile making process of Hamayun's 16th century tomb.

After testing in Oxford University, Barcelona, India, Iran and Uzbekistan, the Uzbek technique was found to be the closest to the original process.

Samarkand master craftsmen Namandjon Mavlyanov,  Kurbon Melikov and Bakhodurkhuja Rakhmatov spent weeks on site experimenting and have now created the exact five shades of tiles that the Mughals originally used.

These artisans are now training local Indian craftsmen in the techniques. Read more about this project.

Related post: Minarets of Uzbekistan

Hamayun's tomb New Delhi
Hamayun's tomb, New Delhi

Friday, June 24, 2011

Christine Shoji's Samarkand and Khiva sketches

Talented Sydney artist Christine Shoji travelled with me to Uzbekistan in April 2011. She's a fast and fabulous drawer: curious crowds would gather as she sketched in markets and monuments. They were transfixed. Christine produced a beautiful, visual journal of the trip. If you'd like to know more about her work, send her a message via the contact form.

Khiva Samarkand Uzbek sketches Chris Shoji
Christine Shoji's sketches of Samarkand & Khiva
Related posts:  Uzbek Sketchbook
Minarets of Uzbekistan

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nargis Bekmuhamedova - Samarkand textile designer

Ikat pattern design by Nargis in Samarkand
Nargis models one of her gorgeous designs
Nargis Bekmuhamedova is an architect-turned-designer based in Samarkand. She has fused her passions of vintage fabrics and good food by creating the Arts Café Studio, located just next to the gloriously-domed Bibi Khanum Mosque.

She makes beautiful jackets and accessories using antique textiles. The suzani is the classic Uzbek hand-embroidered 'dowry' object, usually large enough to cover a double bed, often used as a decorative wall hanging. The silk embroidered designs represent weeks and weeks of labour by the women of the family in preparation for a wedding or a birth. These days high-quality suzani are increasingly hard to come by; they are keenly sought by antiquarians and textile collectors and even damaged pieces fetch high prices.

Nargis finds pieces that are beyond repair and cleverly cuts them so that the patterns follow the form of the jacket in a flattering manner. Like the suzani fabric itself, all Nargis' work is hand-stitched to a high quality. Only the fragile base fabric of the suzani is reinforced with intricate machine work. Many of the suzani fabrics date from pre-1950.

Vintage woodblock print Samarkand coat
Detail: exquisite reversible coat by Nargis
Nargis also reworks antique wood-block printed fabrics. The photo to the right details the inside and outside of a beautiful, reversible coat I bought. The woodblock fabric is over 100 years old. Note the lines of hand stitching that cover the coat. Artists from Central Asia gather in her boutique/cafe: I spent one evening last year chatting with a silk painter from Siberia, a felt worker from Kyrgyzstan and a Kazak painter.

Nargis is participating this year at the prestigious Santa Fe International Folk Art Market 8 - 10 July. Do drop by if you are in New Mexico for that event. Otherwise, visit her at 12 Tashkent Street, Samarkand, where you can pick up hats, scarves, bags, tunics and coats. I also recommend her borscht and excellent cardamon coffee.

Related posts: Samarkand: A Fashion Show & Uzbek Concert
Feruza's Ikat Store, Bukhara
Uzbek ikat robes feature in Russian textiles book
Basso & Brooke Meet Ikat on the New Silk Road Project
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Central Asian Ikats: Colors of the Oasis
Suzanis as Upholstery: the Brilliance of Bokja Design
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani

Friday, June 17, 2011

Max Penson: Uzbek Photography between Revolution and Tradition

Max Penson photo of Uzbek telephone operator 1938
Telephone Operator 1938, Photography: Max Penson
The Nailya Alexander Gallery in New York, which specializes in Russian vintage photography, recently held an exhibition of 48 vintage gelatin silver prints from Penson's family estate.

Born in Belarus in 1893, Max Penson moved to Tashkent in the 1920s. His remarkable images cover the modernization effort: formation of collective farms, irrigation of arid lands for cotton growing, development of the paper industry and silk production, liberation of women, and the education of children. Penson recorded these historical changes and contributed regularly to TASS (Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union).

He created a unique visual chronicle, an epic poem in photographic form of the radical transformation of life and colossal engineering projects in the region. His images show men digging vast irrigation canals, attending literacy classes, women rid of their traditional horsehair veils to wear contemporary clothes and pursuing new professions, as telephone operators or tractor drivers. In 1937 Penson was part of the World Fair in Paris, winning an award for his "Uzbek Madonna," a portrait of a young woman unveiled and publicly nursing her child.

In 1939, Penson, alongside other photographers, documented the construction of the 270-kilometers long Grand Fergana Canal, which was built by hand by 160,000 people in only forty five days. It was one of the most remarkable achievements of the Soviet Union. The images of the construction conjure a pharaonic impression, as enormous numbers of peasants are called to work under the heat of the sun by karnai (musical elongated horns).

Max Penson Uzbek Red Caravan photograph
Red Caravan 1939, Photography: Max Penson
Accused of being influenced by Western aesthetics, Penson fell out of official favour. In 1948 rising anti-Semitism forced him to leave his job at Pravda Vostoka after working there for 25 years. Penson died in 1959 after a long period of depression and illness. His archive was nearly destroyed in the great earthquake that struck Tashkent in 1966. His family rescued more than 50,000 images and negatives that form the basis of an important collection that has led to a traveling exhibition and the Max Penson website.

A bilingual German/English publication Usbekistan, 1925-1940: Dokumentarfotogrfie 1925 - 1945 von Max Penson was published in 1997 by Benteli, ISBN3716509973.

Other publications include The Unknown Penson: The Archive of the Photographer's Daughter, published in 1995 and Max Penson: Photographer of the Uzbek Avant-Garde 1920s-1940s, 2011.

Related posts:
Khudaybergen Divanov - Father of Uzbek Photography
Jacques Dupâquier's Images of Tashkent, 1956
Chronicle of an Upheaval the World Couldn't See 
Paul Nadar's Images of Turkestan 1890 
Yulia Drobova’s "End of Winter" Exhibiiton, Tashkent: Until 31 May

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yulia Drobova - Uzbek Illustrator and Designer

Stylized Central Asian women pattern
This design reminds me of Ballets Russes costumes
Look at these marvellous pieces by Tashkent-based illustrator Yulia Drobova.

After 5 years at the Tashkent Architectural State Institute, Yulia graduated with a Master's degree in Advertisement and Applied Graphic Art. She is now a freelance illustrator working on children's books and textile projects. At the end of 2010 Yulia spent 3 months in Paris as artist in residence, at the Cité Internationale des Arts.

Her bold, strong work demonstrates how vibrant the contemporary design world is in Uzbekistan. View her portfolio to see more of her delightful work. I especially like Our Datcha in Tashkent, a prize winner in the They Draw and Travel competition, 2011.

Yulia also creates posters for the Ilkhom Theatre, the Soviet Union's first experimental, independent theatre founded during the Brezhnev era. This remarkable artistic collective has performed worldwide, garnering rave reviews and awards, including the Prince Claus Award 2011.

Ce que l'on peut voir sous les pieds
Also in 2011 the Institut Français in Tashkent held an exhibition of Yulia's work. Titled Les Paysages Inconnus, the exhibition captured impressions of her time in Paris in photographs, graphic works and installations. Isn't her work fabulous?

You can read an interview with Yulia on Image Zoo published in December 2011.

Related post:  Yulia Drobova’s "End of Winter" Exhibition, Tashkent: Until 31 May 2015

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Uzbek Rhapsody: The Films of Ali Khamraev

Scene from Kahmraev's film The Bodyguard

Filmmaker Ali Khamraev’s wife, Gulya Tashbayeva, stars in The Bodyguard

If you are lucky to be in Vancouver now, head down to the Pacific Cinémathèque, which will screen Khamraev's 1979 masterpiece 'The Bodyguard' on 8 and 9 June as part of the first North American retrospective of his films.  Khamraev, one of Central Asia’s leading filmmakers,  was born in Tashkent in 1937. He now lives in Italy, is still working today and has been compared to Kurosawa and Herzog.

'The Bodyguard' is a superb example of the Soviet 'Eastern' or Red Western. It is set against the Basmachi revolt of the 1920s, when Muslim forces in Central Asia took up arms against Soviet domination.

Related post:  Uzbekistan as Film Location

Monday, June 6, 2011

Desert of Forbidden Art screens at Venice Biennale

desert of forbidden art film posterThe brilliant, award-winning documentary The Desert of Forbidden Art screened 1 June at the Central Asian Pavillion at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Film makers Amanda Pope & Tchavdar Georgiev attended the screening. Here's a review from La Stampa if you read Italian.

The Nukus Museum houses a collection of Soviet avant-garde art rivalled only by St. Petersburg’s Russian Museum. This is the remarkable tale of Igor Savitsky, (an obsessive collector), a local government that financed the purchase of dissident art when Stalin’s ‘Social Realism’ decree still prevailed, and the woman who protects and preserves the integrity of the collection today.

Also good to see an article in the Moscow Times today about it. If you haven't seen it yet, you can watch the trailer then buy a copy of the DVD.

Related posts: London Book Launch: Biography of Igor Savitsky
Homage to Savitsky

Friday, June 3, 2011