On the Roads of Samarkand – Wonders of Silk and Gold Exhibition from 23 November 2022 to 4 June 2023 at the Institute of the Arab World, Paris
“Is it strange that on the first day of the new year I got the feeling that I’ve already seen the most beautiful textile exhibition of this year?”, wrote Dutch fellow blogger Jan ter Heide in his TextileLove* blog. And I totally agree with him, there is so much to admire in this exhibition: gold embroidery on “chapans”, a sort of overcoat mainly for men; “paranjas”, traditional dresses for women covering the face; ikats for fantastic colourful dresses; souzanis, cotton wall hangings covered in silk or cotton embroidery; “tubeteika” or headdresses for men as part of the traditional Uzbek costume (now also used by women); “alo bakhmal” or silk velvet, invented by Uzbek craftsmen and now also used by Western couturiers; felted and woven rugs; and last but not least, the traditional jewellery of this region that is so rich in culture.
Jack Lang, the famous former Minister of Culture who is now President of the Institute of the Arab World, made the exhibition possible. In his introduction he says: “I have always been committed to bringing together knowledge and culture. This fantastic exhibition marvelously plays this role, that of admiring to learn and learning to admire”.
Saida Mirziyoyeva, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Art and Culture Development Foundation of the Republic of Uzbekistan, states: “Our goal is to share the complexity that has presided over their manufacture and to make this knowledge available to professionals and enthusiasts“.
Gayane Umerova, Executive Director of the above mentioned Foundation, says: “In the 19th century, the metropolis of Bukhara was famous for its gold embroidery. At the same time, local craftsmen were engaged in the manufacture of fabrics, and women devoted their free time to sewing, creating embroideries of incredible beauty“.
Aside from Bukhara, other embroidery centres were Shakhrisabz, Nourata, Samarkand, Tashkent, Surkhandaria and the Fergana Valley.The most important type of local embroidery is souzani, a tribal decorative textile from Central Asia. Usually cotton fabrics embroidered in silk or cotton threads, they were first used as bedcovers but later, from the end of the 19th century onwards, they also served as wallhangings. Their main motifs were solar or lunar discs, flowers and fruits, and they would often be made on the occasion of a marriage. In addition to souzanis, embroidery was used in many other functional textiles that could transform any interior space.
The Fergana valley, and especially Marquilan, was known for its ikat fabrics. Similarly, Bukhara was the city of (male) gold embroiderers of the luxurious “chapans” that were often given as presents or bought as travel souvenirs. Families would use them for many decades.
Rugs and felted objects, on the other hand, were made in the steppe regions.
Gayana Umerova says: “It is our goal to give an overview of the niche heritage of our country and to support local artisans who devote their lives to the art of textiles and to the preservation of our traditions”.
Over a period of several years, many expeditions have been organised and a group of experts has studied the most important collections of the museums in Uzbekistan. They have looked at the regional specialities of the dress-making and fabric-making process, the local nuances and the historical development of traditional craft techniques.
Yaffa Assoulimo, the General Commissioner of the exhibition, was assigned various projects by the two women mentioned earlier for which she travelled all over Uzbekistan. She was amazed at the richness she encountered, surprised by the kindness and hospitality extended to her, and enchanted by the steppe and mountain landscapes. The country has become her passion, and being a journalist, she wanted to share this passion in a series of books published by Edition Assouline (in French and English). She has visited all the museums in the various regions of Uzbekistan and discovered many treasures there. The richness, diversity and beauty of their collections captivated her. She decided to exhibit only objects from those museums because she hoped that this would inspire travellers to Uzbekistan to visit the local museums and admire the objects on site. Saida and Gayana supported her idea, which meant that this wonderful project could be realised with assistance from the Foundation.
We are indebted to those three women, Saida, Gayana and Yaffa, as well as Jack Lang for this breathtaking experience. To this exhibition a catalogue (in French) is published at 14 Euro “Sur les routes de Samarcande, merveilles de soie et d`or”