Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Beauty of Khivan Carpets

Drawing on the designs of Khiva's wood-carved doors and the tile and ceiling patterns of the ancient city's monuments, Khiva Silk Workshop produces the most original and beautiful carpets I have ever seen. Begun in 2001 as a joint project between Operation Mercy and UNESCO, the workshop is located in a converted madrassah in the Ichan Qala (old city).
Silk thread skeins in Khiva Silk Carpet workshop courtyard
Skeins of silk thread hanging in the workshop's courtyard

Only natural dyes from plants, minerals and insects are used to dye the silk threads. 'Barkh' is a blend of onion skins, vine and quince leaves that produces a vibrant mustard yellow. Pomegranate skins yield rich golds, the powdered root of the madder plant produces the reds, walnut husks the browns, and indigo, from India or Afghanistan, the blues.

In 2004 a suzani (embroidery) workshop was opened around the corner. Here the traditional tile and door designs are hand stitched with silk thread on cushion covers, wall hangings, napkins and table mats.

Hand-embroidered cushion cover
This is a a small enterprise well worth supporting: the work is high quality, staff training is ongoing, staff work a 40-hour week and are paid fair wages on time. The workshop does not offer online sales, so a visit to Khiva is needed to purchase one of these beauties.  You can also order in advance: a 2 x 1 metre carpet will take three weavers 3-4 months to complete. I usually order a carpet, about that size, every year. It can be skilfully tied up into a 6-7kg bundle that fits neatly into my suitcase.

Update June 2012: The workshop can now arrange postage via Express Mail Service from Khiva. For documentation and postage the average cost to most destinations is US$120. It takes around 3 weeks. My carpet arrived safely using this convenient method. It arrived in a cotton bag sealed in old-fashioned wax!

uzbekistan carpets, silk carpets khiva, uzbekistan art craft tours
How my carpet arrived, complete with wax seals!
You can view the designs and learn more about the carpet and embroidery pieces at the Khiva Silk Workshop website.  Below is a slide show of the carpets that were available when I was there.

Related posts: Symbols in Stitches: Uzbek Suzanis 
Khiva's Sunday Markets
A Glimpse of Khivan Woodcarving 1937 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Samarkand Sharq Taronalari Music Festival 25 - 30 August 2011

If you are near Samarkand next week, do not miss Sharq Taronalari (Oriental Melodies), the biennial world music festival at the Registan, from 25-30 August. This year marks the 8th staging of this event and is being supported by UNESCO to celebrate 20 years of Uzbekistan’s independence.

Samarkand Registan lit up for Sharq Taronalari  performance
The Registan lit up for a musical performance
From ancient times, Samarkand has been a flourishing cultural crossroads, and home to a rich musical tradition born from the interaction between different cultures. The festival, an initiative of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, aims to foster international cooperation by building close contact between artists and musicians from different countries. The festival seeks to popularise the best of national music.

There are three categories of competition that an international jury will evaluate: traditional folk songs (best performance of the national song), traditional national music and contemporary national music and performance.

Organizers have confirmed that performers from 46 countries will participate. It will be Cuba's first time in the festival. As well as the Registan square, performances will be held in parks, the amphitheatre and throughout the city. Thanks to satellite broadcasting the event will be televised in almost 100 countries.

A visit to Samarkand for Sharq Taronalari is on my 'must do' list. How exciting to be there as Samarkand morphs into a musical melting pot, resonating to sounds, song and dance from around the globe. Throw famous Uzbek warmth and hospitality into the mix and what a festival it must be. The clip below of the Italian group i Viulan, performing in 2009, gives a taste of the setting and atmosphere.

Related post: Samarkand's Musical Traditions 
Samarkand: A Fashion Show & Uzbek Concert 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jamilia: A Kyrgyz Love Story

Jamilia cover 2007 edition Telegram Books
Cover of Telegram Books 2007 edition
Yesterday I read a beautiful novella, Jamilia, by Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov. Born in 1928, he lived during times of great upheaval as his native, remote land was being transformed into a republic of the USSR.

Aitmatov worked as a shepherd, tax collector and engineer's assistant in Kyrgyzstan. He studied animal husbandry then switched to literary studies at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow.  After graduating he worked at Pravda, the leading newspaper of the Soviet Union and mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

Jamilia was written in 1958 to great acclaim. The writer Louis Aragon translated it into French in 1959 calling it "the world's most beautiful love story" and introduced Aitmatov's works to readers outside the USSR. 

Set during World War II on a collective farm producing grain for the army, it is a coming of age story narrated by Jamilia's younger brother-in-law Seit. Seit's descriptions transport the reader to the huge expanses of valley, sky and mountain in Central Asia, and the remoteness and stillness of countryside untouched by our fast, modern world.

Although the book recounts the love between Jamilia and a crippled young man while her soldier husband is away at the front, for me the true love story is the deep bond between the writer and his homeland.

Chingiz Aitmatov was an advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev and later became the Kyrgyz ambassador to the European Union.

He died in 2008. I've now ordered another of his books, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, and can't wait for its arrival. You can read more about Aitmatov's prose, plays and his remarkable life at his Russiapedia entry.

Related posts:
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan
Karakol: A Frontier Town in Kyrgyzstan
6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan 
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan 
Lenin Still Points the Way in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Image of Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov
Chingiz Aitmatov

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Basso & Brooke Meet Ikat on the New Silk Road Project

Brazilian-British duo Bruno Basso and Christopher Brooke are pioneers of the digital print process in fashion, renowned for producing unique and inspired textiles and prints. They made history with their groundbreaking 100% digitally printed collection, earning them the prestigious UK Fashion Fringe award in 2004.Their clients include Rihanna and Beyoncé Knowles.

Basso and Blake from the Uzbek inspired collection
Basso & Brooke inspired by the jewels of Uzbekistan
In October 2009, Basso and Brooke undertook a ten-day research tour in Uzbekistan, as part of the British Council's New Silk Road project. It also coincided with Uzbekistan's annual Fashion Week.

They visited Samarkand, Tashkent and the Ferghana valley, where they spent three days studying traditional ikat weaving at the Yodgorlik silk mill in collaboration with Ruth Greany, from London-based Woven Studio.

Greany provided the link between the designers and the mill, helping Basso and Brooke transform their ideas into three unique black and white Ikat prints. All of the fabrics were digitally printed in the pair’s characteristic style and a capsule collection was on show at the Design Museum, London in summer 2010. Visitors could see a myriad of prints processed in the backdrop and then reinforced onto the garments.

Two Uzbek weavers went to the UK in spring 2010 for their residency, visiting the designers’ studio and working with Woven Studio.

Related postsFeruza's Ikat Store, Bukhara
Uzbek Ikat as Interior Design Element 
Ferghana Valley Silk Ikats: Tying the Clouds
Uzbek ikat robes feature in Russian textiles book
Nargis Bekmuhamedova - Samarkand textile designer
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Central Asian Ikats: Colors of the Oasis 
The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step