Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ikat: The "Thread That Connects Generations" Exhibition, Tashkent

uzbekistan ikat fabrics textiles, uzbekistan art craft textile tours, uzbekistan ikat ferghana valley small group tours
Master Turgunbai Mirzaakhmedov's 2008 adras (silk/cotton mix).
Part of the Guido Goldman collection
Once again art historian Binafsha Nodir and artist Bobur Ismailov have collaborated to produce an exceptional exhibition in Tashkent.

Titled The Thread that Connects Generations, it is dedicated to the work of the Margilan masters - the Mirzaakhmedov dynasty. (Margilan is located in Uzbekistan's Ferghana valley).

It is in large part thanks to this family that the art of ikat has been revived, e.g., Rasul Mirzaakhmedov worked with Oscar de la Renta to reintroduce baghmal, silk velvet ikat, the production of which had been lost.

Ikat refers to both the type of fabric and the resist-dye technique used to create the cloth.

To make ikat, parts of the warp (the yarns which run vertically) or the weft (horizontal) yarns are bound and placed in a series of dye baths.

The parts of the yarns that are tied and protected resist the dye, allowing masters to produce multi-colored textiles through exposing the yarn to multiple dye baths. Unlike carpets or tapestries, the design of an ikat is articulated on the yarns before weaving begins.

Tashkent's House of Photography proved an excellent venue. Special walls and lighting were installed to best display ikat fabric as art objects.

uzbekistan ikat fabrics textiles, uzbekistan art craft textile tours, uzbekistan ikat ferghana valley small group tours
The exhibition's first room showcases recent ikat fabrics of the Mirzaakhmedov masters.

There are three exhibition spaces. The first space showcases fabric woven by the Mirzaakhmedov masters: Rasul Mirzaakhmedov is the ninth generation and his two sons will follow in his footsteps.

As well as fabric samples, this room includes original sketches and instructions of Rasul's father, Turgunbai. Turgunbai created over 200 ikat designs.

uzbekistan ikat fabrics textiles, uzbekistan art craft textile tours, uzbekistan ikat ferghana valley small group tours
A design sketch with instructions by Turgunbai Mirzaakhmedov

Adjacent to this room is an installation of a loom (and cocoons!) so visitors may view how ikat fabric is woven. This room includes marvellous black and white images of Margilan weavers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

uzbekistan ikat fabrics textiles, uzbekistan art craft textile tours, uzbekistan ikat ferghana valley small group tours
The loom installation - masters demonstrate during the exhibition

The installation in the third room provides a wall-length overview of each step of ikat fabric creation.

uzbekistan ikat fabrics textiles, uzbekistan art craft textile tours, uzbekistan ikat ferghana valley small group tours
Step-by-step installation of the intricate processes to produce ikat fabric

On the opposite wall is another series of black and white photographs of people involved in ikat creation dating from the late 19th century until the present day.

This outstanding exhibition places artisanal work, often deemed simply "craft" on the same level as fine art. If you are lucky enough to be in Tashkent before 12 July, then this exhibition is a "must-see".

Otherwise, I highly recommend the catalogue designed by Tashkent artist Inna Sandler, titled "Нить, соединившая поколения". It is written in Russian and Uzbek - ISBN 978-9943-388-97-0. Try to get a copy just for the fabric images and design sketches. An English-French edition is planned.

uzbekistan ikat fabrics textiles, uzbekistan art craft textile tours, uzbekistan ikat ferghana valley small group tours
Adras (silk/cotton mix) fabric in apple design, 2015

This exhibition is one of the first projects of the Islam Karimov foundation, a charitable organization named in honour of the late Islam Karimov, who served as independent Uzbekistan's first president from 1990 to 2016. The Karimov Foundation operates programs both in Uzbekistan and abroad with the goal of promoting Uzbekistan’s historical, cultural and literary heritage.

Related posts: 
Sacrament of Magic Yarn  (the 2016 exhibition that focused on embroidery - also a collaboration of Nodir and Ismailov)
The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step
The Fantasy World of Uzbek Textile Artist Dilyara Kaipova
Ferghana Valley tours 
Human House - Tashkent's Coolest Design Space

uzbekistan ikat fabrics textiles, uzbekistan art craft textile tours, uzbekistan ikat ferghana valley small group tours
Rasul Mirzaakhmedov and his family, at home in Margilan, Ferghana Valley

Friday, June 16, 2017

Socks of Khiva

uzbekistan art craft textiles tours, khivan textile specialities, uzbekistan small group tours
Khivan face socks - locals call them "Madonna socks". Image: Inessa Yuvakaeva
There are many beautiful applied art objects to purchase in Uzbekistan: suzane, ceramics, ikat fabrics, carpets and more.

But sometimes it is the simple souvenir that is the most pleasing.

Only in Khiva, in western Uzbekistan, can you buy these wonderful, knitted *face* socks. A cosy, perfect present for a shoes-free household or yoga friends.

(Very occasionally you may also find *face* mittens).

Everywhere in Khiva you see women knitting - either socks with traditional Khorezm patterns or these face socks. (Khorezm is the vast, historical region in which Khiva is located).

Uzbek Journeys traveller, Robin Gurr, gave a pair to her friend, embroiderer and knitter Jillian Dellit. Jillian absolutely loved them and, after many wears, was alarmed when holes started to appear on both heels.

Drawing on the skills of her mother and grandmother, Jillian mended them. And if the same should happen to your lovely face socks, you can follow Jillian's illustrated repair techniques on her blog Always Stitching.

Related posts:  A Glimpse of Khivan Woodcarving 1937
Chekichs: Uzbek Bread Stamps
The Beauty of Khivan Carpets
Khiva: Bread Making Master Class
Uzbekistan: A Passion for Printing

uzbekistan art craft textiles tours, khivan textile specialities, uzbekistan small group tours
Stallholder busy knitting socks in Khiva. Image: Inessa Yuvakaeva

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Other Side of the Mountain: Afghanistan's Ski Challenge

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge
Afghanistan's jagged, sky-scraping mountain ranges have over centuries been its best defence against foreign invasions, but there are other ways they can be put to use for the country.

Since 2011, the annual Afghan Ski Challenge has run from February through March in the Koh-i-Baba mountains, not far from where the Taliban infamously bombed giant Buddha rock carvings in the country's central Bamyan province.

Here there are races for both professionals and amateurs, in which mostly Afghan skiers compete against each other and a handful of international rivals.

The event is organized by the Bamyan Ski Club, a Zurich-based not-for-profit organization founded six years ago with the aim of promoting skiing and tourism in Bamyan.

Real backcountry

Covered by snow for six months of the year, the Baba range would seem a far-flung option for foreign adventurers seeking their next backcountry skiing fix. Moreover, Afghanistan is regularly portrayed as devastated and overrun by militants in international media.

But Bamyan province, while poor and ignored by the central government, is safe from the dangers of the Taliban and ISIS, and open to both local and international tourism.

Since 2011 an average of more than 30 skiers from countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Slovenia, and the United States have visited Bamyan annually, a trickle organisers of the Afghan Ski Challenge hope will grow over time.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Many come simply for the adventure. Backcountry skiing — as opposed to alpine skiing — grew up as a North American cottage industry but has turned into a movement expanding into some of the least-traveled-to countries on the planet. It thrives on virgin snow and a general absence of the infrastructure found in ski resorts, such as chair and button lifts.

In February 2012, the first ski school was launched in Bamyan by Rah-e Abrishom Travel and Tours, providing ski trainings for as many as 60 young Bamyanis in its first one-month course, led by two foreign trainers.

There are presently five local ski clubs in Bamyan with over 200 members in total. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan Ski Federation which was founded in 2015, gained membership of the International Ski Federation in 2016.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Most local ski enthusiasts do not have the necessary equipment (skis, snowshoes, boots and helmets) which combined can run to over $1,000. The equipment used by the skiers for the Afghan Ski Challenge is provided by Switzerland, the Aga Khan Foundation, the Bamyan Ski Club and the Bamyan Tourism Association.

Some,however, rely on innovation and whatever they have at their disposal. As one foreigner put it in an interview with the Guardian, "They decided to copy us – making their own skis from planks of wood and tying them to their shoes with fabric and rope. Skiing with them is all part of the fun of being here".

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Women ski, too

Girls have been a part of the Afghan Ski Challenge from its beginning, growing in number every year. Now, the Bamyan Ski Club has over 30 female members, some of whom have been winners in Challenge events.

Home mostly to ethnic Hazaras, Bamyan boasts one of the highest rates of female education in Afghanistan. It was also the first province to be governed by a woman after the fall of the Taliban.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Women's reintegration into public life in post-Taliban Afghanistan has been an uphill struggle for the most part. In Bamyan, while challenges persist, the social environment is more forgiving.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Sports and politics

In Afghanistan sport is political. Since the majority of Afghan cricket players are ethnic Pashtuns, for instance, some other ethnic groups resent the game. However, the government has invested significant funds and political capital into cricket.

Recently, President Ashraf Ghani received cricketers at his residence upon their arrival from India, and the government’s Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah joined spectators in India cheering the team on at the T20 World Cup.

Both President Ghani and CEO Abdullah also serenaded the cricket team on their Twitter accounts.

Taekwondo is more often associated with Hazaras. Two-time Olympic medal winner Rohullah Nikpah is an ethnic Hazara, who resigned in protest against alleged corruption in the Afghan National Olympic Committee. Corruption in the National Olympic Committee and the Afghan Sports Federation have received regular attention in local media.

Skiing meanwhile, has not spread far outside of Bamyan, and has been largely ignored by the government, despite the Afghan ski federation's ambitions to enter two trained Afghan skiers into the Winter Olympics in 2018.

Agha Mohammad Kargar, who heads the federation, complained in a telephone interview with Global Voices that “the government has been totally neglectful of this sport.”

"The budget of the federation is zero, and we rely on donations to cover our expenses",  he told Global Voices.

This interesting article was first published on 15 April 2017 on Global Voices Online. It was written by Bismellah Alizada and  Rustam Ali Seerat.

Read more about Afghanistan's Ski Challenge.

Related posts:
Cricket in Afghanistan and Tajikistan
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding 
White Silk Road - Snowboarding Afghanistan