Video: Reviving a Silk Road Tradition

Screenshot from the documentary. © NHK World Japan

NHK World Japan have just released a new short documentary on ikat-making in Uzbekistan. It will be available to view until 8 March 2019 here.

This short documentary focuses on the work of Muhayo Aliyeva, the remarkable woman behind the Bibi Hanum brand. Muhayo created this brand back in 2006 and through it has provided work for many women not only in her Tashkent headquarters, but also further afield in the Ferghana Valley. According to their website “Bibi Hanum™ is a socially responsible enterprise that creates garments and accessories using traditional hand-woven silk cotton ikat fibre. Founded by Muhayo Alieva its mission is to provide economic opportunities for women while preserving Uzbekistan’s rich cultural and ethnographic heritage.”

Early on in the documentary we see the difficulties she has faced bringing a reinterpretation of Uzbek ikat to a modern audience, and how she has altered traditional patterns to suit her particular needs. We are also introduced to Rasuljon Mirzaahmedov, a fifth-generation ikat maker from Margilan – a famous centre of ikat production. In 2005 UNESCO awarded him a “Seal of Excellence” for his research into, and revitalisation of, the craft of velvet ikat weaving known as bakhmal. In fact 2005 was a very busy year for Rasuljon as that was also when he established the Khorezm Weaving centre in the old city of Khiva – a city which several OATG members have visited with Sheila Paine.  I was intrigued to see the machine they used for binding the bundles of 100 threads in his workshop in Margilan. Rasuljon demonstrated his expertise at the Textile Society of America Symposium in Washington DC in 2012 as part of a Central Asia panel organised by Christine Martens. He is a regular participant in the Santa Fe International Folk Art market.

Also in 2005 the fashion designer Oscar de la Renta used ikat cloths created by Rasuljon in his collection. The designer was clearly enamoured with these textiles, using them in many catwalk shows over a period of years. In this short video interview he speaks of his appreciation for the work that goes into creating ikat textiles and we can see some of his creations, including this stunning strapless dress.

Several of de la Renta’s pieces featured in the exhibition To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia, which was held at the Freer/Sackler from March to July last year. Some of the highlights of the exhibition can be viewed here. Just click on each image to see the enlarged versions.

Ikat trench coat. Oscar de la Renta 2005 collection. © Smithsonian

Curatorial assistant Christina Elliott describes the process of preparing these textiles for the exhibition here. It was interesting to read of their method of insect prevention and see what goes on behind the scenes of a textile exhibition.

Part of the To Dye For exhibition. © Smithsonian

Last July Muhayo Aliyeva gave a presentation on Contemporary Ikat Designs at the Freer/Sackler as part of the programme arranged around this exhibition.  The whole event was filmed and can be seen here. In it she talks about the history of ikat in Central Asia and then shows current production methods, including the design, dyeing and weaving of the cloth. The video clips she shows of the warping up are really interesting, especially when you realise they are coping with 3000 fine threads.

Threading the reed. © Muhayo Aliyeva.

Another major ikat exhibition opened a couple of weeks ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Entitled Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats from the David and Elizabeth Reisbord Collection it highlights over 60 examples of ikat textiles – including clothing and woven panels. I like the fact that they show several garments worn in layers on the mannequins. This does mean that it’s more difficult to focus on an individual piece, but it gives a more accurate picture of how they would have been worn in the past.

The organiser of this exhibition, Clarissa M. Esguerra, will be giving an exclusive lecture to members of the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) on Saturday 2 March 2019 in the Brown Auditorium at LACMA. Email info@tmasc.org for more details on membership.

One of the most striking garments in the Oscar de la Renta collection was this ikat coat with a fur trim, designed for the 2000 Balmain Haute Couture collection. The coat is clearly made up from several different sections of ikat, particularly on the right front. The pattern of the ikat is very reminiscent of the ikat made in a very different area of Uzbekistan – Khorezm.

Many people are unaware of the ikat-producing tradition in the city of Khiva. The cloth here is known as adras. It has a silk ikat warp and a cotton weft, giving it a fine ribbed texture.This design with the central turquoise  stripe and alternating red and green horns was the most popular with the nearby Qaraqalpaqs on their kiymesheks and shapans.

 Khivan patterns were simplified versions of Bukharan designs. This is not surprising given that they were made by members of a small community of Jewish dyers who arrived in Khiva with their traditional Bukharan designs.For more information on this small centre of ikat production visit the website of OATG members David and Sue Richardson on the Qaraqalpaqs of the Aral Delta.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibition: Secrets of the Lacquer Buddha

Exhibition Dates: 9 December 2017 – 10 June 2018

Secrets of the Lacquer Buddha unites the only sixth- and seventh-century, life-size Chinese lacquer buddha sculptures known: one from the Walters Art Museum, one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one from the Freer Gallery of Art. They have never been exhibited together before.

The exhibition explores how the sculptures were made, giving new insights into these deceptively simple objects. It also highlights how science can contribute to understanding art. The Freer|Sackler Department of Conservation and Scientific Research’s experts used specialised equipment and new methods to analyse the sculptures, exposing microscopic details. Find out what tree species the lacquer came from, what type of burnt bone was mixed in, and other unexpected discoveries.

The amount of detailed background information given on the Freer|Sackler website is amazing. The essay by Donna Strahan and Blythe McCarthy on the construction of the buddha sculptures is particularly fascinating.

They discovered that pieces of wood wrapped in textiles which had been dipped in lacquer were used as a support inside some of the buddhas. The fibres from all four sculptures were identified by polarised light microscopy as bast fibres with crystalline nodes. The fibres’ colours further identified them as hemp when examined under polarised light.

A textile dated to between 1272 and 1284 also features in the essay on Lacquer, Relics, and Self-Mummification by Denise Patry Leidy.

For more information visit the website of the Freer|Sackler museum, Washington DC.

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