Article: Kelaghayis of Azerbaijan

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

The kelaghayi (kelagayi/kalaghayi) is a traditional silk scarf made in Azerbaijan. In 2014 this was added  to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This video was made by Asif Abramov and Rena Ibrahimbeyova to support the process of adding kelaghayi to this list.

These fine silk headcovers have been produced in Azerbaijan for generations. In 1862 Nasir Abdulaziz from Basgal showed his kelaghayis at the International Exhibition in London, gaining a silver medal for his work. In the mid-nineteenth century the Russian painter Grigory Grigoryevich Gagarin depicted a woman from Shamakhi (probably a musician or dancer) wearing a kelaghayi over a small cap, in the local style.

“Woman of Shamakhi” by Grigory Grigoryevich Gagarin

The silk scarf provided warmth in the cold weather, and protected the wearer from the heat in hot weather. It was produced in a variety of colours. Many believe that older women tended to wear darker colours, while younger women preferred lighter ones. Red was associated with weddings, and black with mourning – with scarves sometimes being used to cover the deceased too. It was tied in a variety of different ways, depending on the region. There were many beliefs associated with the production of these scarves – people should not enter the silkworm-incubation premises wearing gold or silver jewellery or a wristwatch, the scarves should never be folded with the pattern on the outside etc, etc.

Although these scarves used to be made throughout Azerbaijan, production is now centred on Sheki and Basgal. Basgal is also the home of the Kelagayi museum, the walls of which are decorated with some of the traditional motifs used on the scarves.

 Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

The scarf shown below was bought by the author in Khiva, Uzbekistan, from an Azerbaijani shop owner. It was made in the Sheki Ipek Kombinat named after Lenin, in Sheki. At one time this was one of the largest silk-weaving centres in the Soviet Union, employing 7,000 people at its peak. The factory closed after the collapse of the USSR in 1995. The twin towns of Sheki and Shamakhi have been silk-weaving centres since medieval times and in the early twentieth century there were 127 silk mills in the Sheki region, employing 3,500 people. The seller told me that scarves such as mine date to the 1970s, but I haven’t been able to verify that.

The patterns on the kelaghayi are produced using a resist technique. They are applied using stamps which were traditionally carved from pear or walnut wood, but were often also made of metal.

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

These stamps are dipped in a mixture of paraffin, resin and solid oil, before being carefully applied to the surface of the silk cloth. Various natural dyes are used to colour the cloths, before the wax is removed with hot water.

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

Obviously the workload and time needed to produce such scarves is increased if several different colours are used. Kelaghayi with six or seven colours were perceived as the most valuable and desirable and are still being produced in Basgal today. Versions of traditional kelaghayi produced in China using synthetic fabric are now entering the market, providing stiff competition for the workshops who produce silk scarves in the time-honoured way.

Similar scarves seem to have been produced in other areas too. The author bought this one in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in 2001. It had been made in a factory in Chardzhou in the east of the country. The factory had closed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many thanks to Christine Martens for allowing me to reproduce some of the photos she took in Basgal following the “Intersections in felt” Symposium in October 2018.

Some fabulous images, along with an interview with a workshop-owner which really gives a sense of the working conditions, can be seen in an article by Samra Sadraddinli on the Chai Khana website here.

More background information for this article comes from this piece by Emil Eyyabov for the Azerbaijan State News Agency, this article  by Valentina Reznikova for Region Plus, and finally this article by Afat Rustamayova and Ruslan Huseynov on irs-az.com.

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News: Textiles from the Silk Road in Museum Collections – Scientific Investigations and Conservation Challenges

 

On 10 December 2018 a Symposium in Conservation Science was held at the British Museum in London, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The Department of Scientific Research of the British Museum hosted this symposium about the scientific investigation of Asian textiles in museum collections. There was a particular focus Chinese textiles, but there were also contributions covering other geographical provenances along the Silk Road. The symposium featured scientific research recently carried out on Dunhuang textiles from the British Museum’s collection. The focus of the workshop was the importance of different scientific approaches and analytical techniques to the study of weaving, fibres and dyes in Asian textiles. Comparisons between the information that can be obtained with non-invasive and invasive approaches were encouraged, as well as how this information relates to conservation challenges and display decisions.

The programme covered such diverse topics as Silk Road Thangka Textiles from the Sven Hedin Collection, Investigating Asian colourants in textiles from Dunhuang in the British Museum, and Silk, wild silk and half silk textiles from Palmyra – New scientific approaches. The full programme can be viewed here 

Book of Abstracts for the event has now been made available for download. These abstracts should certainly whet the appetite of textile enthusiasts and scholars alike!

 

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Exhibition: Ornamental Traditions – Jewelry from Bukhara

Exhibition dates: 13 July 2018 – 30 June 2019

Located in present-day Uzbekistan, the Emirate of Bukhara (1785–1920) was an important centre of Islamic religion and scholarship and a major oasis on the famous Silk Road that traversed Central Asia from ancient times. As such, it was highly diverse—home to the majority Uzbek and Tajik populations in addition to communities of Arabs, Jews, and Turkmen who played a role in the emirate’s vibrant trade. Over time, Bukhara developed its own iconic style of jewellery characterised by intricate blue enamelwork that mirrored the region’s blue-glazed, tiled architecture. Russia’s colonisation of Bukhara in 1866 brought with it more advanced enamelling techniques, allowing for increasingly complex designs.

In almost every context, the jewellery of Bukhara embodied great meaning and was rarely considered mere decoration. Large, ornate suits of jewellery were thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits, particularly during important events like weddings, and were the strongest assertion of a person’s power and wealth. Throughout Uzbekistan, such objects were designed to be worn as sets rather than exist as singular pieces.

More than fifty pieces of jewellery from the collection of Barbara and David Kipper are currently on show in Gallery 150 of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A gallery talk led by Alice Boone will take place on 27 November 12:00 -13:00.

For further information visit the website of the Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition: From Kabul to Kolkata – Of Belonging, Memories and Identity

 

 

Exhibition dates: 11 October – 15 December 2018 (Closed Sundays and Mondays)

Afghans have travelled to India for centuries but it was in 1892 that they were given a romantic, and lasting identity. This link was set into history when India’s most famous modern poet and one of its greatest cultural icons, Rabindranath Tagore, penned his short story about the Kabuliwala or man from Kabul.

This exhibition of photographs by Moska Najib and Nazes Afroz concerns a specific intra-Asian connection between Afghans and Indians that highlights larger historical patterns of trans-Asian migration, cultural resilience and transformation, and shifting senses of self, community and home.

While until a few decades ago, real Kabuliwalas were a common sight on the streets of Kolkata, as in most cities of north and central India, today stereotypes and standard attributes have formed an ambiguous image of these people. Moska Najib, an Afghan by origin but living in India for most of her life, says, ‘Being away from my homeland, I’ve been always drawn to the themes of identity and new belonging. This inspired me to photograph one of the oldest settled Afghan communities in India in modern times.”

More information about the project, including a short video, can be found on the From Kabul to Kolkata website. If you click on the “More” link at the top, you can access further background information. Moska describes how during their first encounter with the community, they realised that they kept a dual existence – one inside their home and one outside. In their abode, they’d wear their traditional attire and follow the typical customs observed in Afghanistan – the habit of sitting on the carpet and not on sofas or chairs, sharing a communal meal from the same platter, using the spittoons and drinking endless cups of green tea.

For more information about the exhibition visit the website of the Brunei Gallery

Location: Brunei Gallery Exhibition Rooms at SOAS, 10 Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H  0XG

Textile Tidbits: Jumlo from Indus Kohistan

 

This woman’s dress or jumlo is the featured Object of the Month from the SADACC (South Asian Decorative Arts and Crafts Collection) Trust.

It was made from a woven black cotton fabric and is finely embroidered with silk threads. It is constructed from three main parts: a bodice, long wide sleeves and a full skirt comprised of numerous triangular inserts of cloth, known as godets. Symmetry is an important element in the design and jumlos are elaborately adorned with buttons, beads and coins. This particular example features beadwork, mother-of-pearl buttons, metal amulets, chains and Pakistani coins dating from 1948 and 1949. Some jumlo are further embellished with zips, lead weights, key and bath chains, padlocks and brass buttons.

Jumlos are made and worn by women from the Shin community. The Shin are semi-nomadic shepherds, who live mainly in the upper valleys of Indus Kohistan, in north west Pakistan, where farming is difficult due to the dry, mountainous landscape. The Shin people move their livestock to higher or lower ground in accordance with the seasons, leaving their village homes during the summer months.

The SADACC Trust is based in Norwich, UK, and more information on this jumlo and many other objects can be found on their website

 

Event: World Textile Day – Central England

Event Date: – 2 June 2018 10:00-16:30, Banbury.

The World Textile Day team write: Arriving in King’s Sutton two years ago, how could we have known that Oxfordshire would turn out to be such hotbed of world textile fans? – We at the Oxford Asian Textile Group are certainly among them!

In 2018 World Textile Day Central is shaping up to be really something. Focusing on the theme Working Together, the SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKER will be Chris Spring, curator of the British Museum’s Africa collection. Chris will speak on Social Fabric: Textiles and Teamwork in East and Southern Africa. There will also be a Fair Trade Market showcasing a wide variety of textiles.

Free parking available on site!

For more details visit the World Textile Day website

Exhibition: Portable Storage: Tribal Weavings from the Collection of William and Inger Ginsberg

Exhibition dates: 25 September 2017 – 7 May 2018, New York

 

Woven bags carried by nomads in the Middle East were designed to contain all of the necessities of life, from bedding to salt. This exhibition highlights 19 distinctly patterned examples of woven bags from nomadic cultures in Iran, Turkey, and the Caucasus, along with one striking pile-woven saddle cover. Featuring geometric patterns as well as stylised floral and animal motifs, these textiles are both utilitarian and expressive of a highly sophisticated tribal aesthetic.  The exhibition also includes an Islamic painting from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection that illustrates bags and trappings in use in traditional society.

For more information visit the website of the Metropolitan Museum

Exhibition: To Dye For – Ikats from Central Asia

Exhibition dates: 24 March – 29 July 2018, Washington DC

 

With their brilliant designs, ikats are among the most distinct fabrics produced in Central Asia. The name, derived from the Malaysian word for “to tie,” refers to the distinct technique of making these textiles: bundles of threads are painstakingly patterned by repeated binding and dyeing before being woven. In present-day Uzbekistan and the Fergana Valley, the fabric is known as abri (cloud) and the technique as abrbandi (tying clouds), referring to the fluid yet bold motifs in bright colors.

Not surprisingly, ikats caught the attention of contemporary designers, most notably Oscar de la Renta (died 2014). In 2005 de la Renta included ikat designs in his collections, an innovation that was soon followed by other designers in the United States and elsewhere. Since then ikat motifs have become ubiquitous—from couture gowns to jeans and T-shirts, and from carpets and sofa coverings to stationery and wallpapers.

This exhibition brings together about thirty of the finest historical Central Asian ikat hangings and coats from the Freer|Sackler collections, donated by Guido Goldman, as well as seven of Oscar de la Renta’s iconic creations. The aim is to explore the original use and function of these dazzling fabrics and the enduring appeal of their extraordinary designs.

This exhibition runs almost concurrently with Binding the Clouds: The Art of Central Asian Ikat at the Textile Museum, also in Washington DC

For more information visit the website of The Freer/Sackler

Exhibition: Binding the Clouds – The Art of Central Asian Ikat

Exhibition dates: 10 March – 9 July 2018, Washington DC

Across Central Asia, oasis towns were once awash with the rainbow colours of ikat fabrics. Through exceptional artworks recently donated to the Textile Museum, this exhibition focuses on the sophisticated art of dyeing known in this region as abrband (binding the clouds).

A lifelong devotee of the arts, in 1975 Dr. Guido Goldman first encountered Central Asian ikats, an art form that employs a sophisticated resist-dye technique to create vibrant abstract patterns in dazzling colours. He subsequently became a passionate collector and went on to build the world’s premier ikat textile art collection. This pursuit led to preservation, education, and a widespread public interest that was influential in the modern revival of Central Asian ikat technique and design. In the late 1990s he organised a stunning exhibition drawn from his collection which traveled to major museums in six cities. Concurrently, he produced what is recognised as perhaps the best art book ever published of a single textile collection, IKAT: Silks of Central Asia, the Guido Goldman Collection.

In 2015, Dr. Goldman donated his favourite 73 ikat textile panels from his collection to The Textile Museum in honour of Bruce P. Baganz, growing the museum’s holdings to one of the largest and most prestigious collections of Central Asian ikats in the world. Highlights from Dr. Goldman’s collection will be on view at the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum in this exhibition, along with a simultaneous exhibition of other Goldman-donated ikat textiles to the Smithsonian at that institution’s Freer-Sackler Galleries.

For more information, visit the website of The Textile Museum

 

Books: Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia – The Fabric of Life

 

Books on textiles or carpets are often organised by geographical region and therefore styles, types of dyes or knots. Fahmida Suleman, curator for the Modern Middle East at the British Museum, has upended that tradition to show the links between the objects and their purpose.

“I’m looking at the social history, how these textiles relate to a person and their everyday life,” she said in an interview. “It’s not just what you wear but what surrounds you. It includes amulets you carry with you, prayer rugs and contemporary works of art that people use to convey a message about the politics of their time.”

Suleman’s new book, “The Fabric of Life: Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia,” is therefore organised by themes: childhood; marriage and ceremony; status and identity; religion and belief; house and homestead; politics and conflict.

The book, published by Thames & Hudson in collaboration with the British Museum, has lavish photographs of more than 200 pieces. These are among 3,000 held by the museum.

To read the full review visit the website of The Arab Weekly

The book is available from The British Museum website here