More Asian textile events in November

The autumn edition of our journal Asian Textiles has now been delivered to most members. Fittingly for this time of year there is a focus on scarves, with a short article on the wedding scarves of the Chuvash by Natalia Yurievna Kashpar.

There is also a much longer one on the kelaghayi of Azerbaijan by Maria Wronska-Friend. If you have been following us for a while you may remember I devoted an entire blog to these scarves in 2019. Michael Heppell has also written on Lampung, Tampan and Ibanic speakers, spurred on by an article by Georges Breguet in the previous edition.

Kantha embroidered textile (detail), India, Bengal, late 19th/early 20th century. Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection T-1907. Photo by Bruce M. White Photography.

The second annual Cotsen Textile Traces Global Roundtable takes place online on Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 November and the subject this year is From India to the World. The first day is devoted to Embroidered Textiles, and the second to Painted and Printed Textiles. Each day there will be three panels, and they feature some stellar speakers including Sarah Fee, Ruth Barnes, Monisha Ahmed and Rosemary Crill. These events begin at 09:00 EST, which is 14:00 GMT. This means that OATG members with stamina can ‘attend’ these sessions before our own talk in the evening.

You can read full details of the programme, including abstracts, here and register for it here.

4-panel screen with embroidered leaves on branch in the fall with two sparrows

A reminder that the next OATG event will be on Thursday 18 November.  This will be an online presentation by Luz van Overbeeke entitled Japanese Ornamental Textiles Through a Dealer’s Eyes. Luz specialises in ornamental textiles of the Meiji era and will discuss some of the most memorable textiles she has found over the years.

This talk will take place at 18:30 GMT and is free for OATG members. There is a small (£3) charge for non-members. Full details and registration here.

Thursday 18 November is certainly a busy day for textile lovers, as the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore is also holding an online event. Professor Giorgio Riello of the University of Warwick is the speaker and his subject is The Ambassador is Spoiling Us: Gifts and Material Diplomacy at the Courts of Siam and France at the End of the Seventeenth Century.

“In the pre-modern period (c. 1400-1800), gifts were at the core of the ceremonies that accompanied the formal reception of foreign ambassadors. Both in Asia and in Europe, the choreography of the reception of ambassadors was carefully staged. This was the case for the Eurasian ambassadorial exchange between the distant Kingdoms of Siam (Thailand) and France in the 1680s. The fame of this specific diplomatic cross-cultural episode is due to the quantities and value of the gifts presented by the Siamese ambassadors to the Court of France and viceversa by the French ambassadors sent to the court of Siam. This presentation argues that diplomacy should not be read only at the level of rulers, in this case between Phra Narai (r. 1656-88) and Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715). The examination of the gifts themselves shows a series of other actors, most notably the ambassadors, but also Jesuits, merchants and adventurers.” – ACM website

The talk begins at 11:00 UTC, which is 19:00 GMT. Full details, and a link to register, can be found here.

On Friday 19 November the Tang Center for Silk Road Studies at UC Berkeley will host a Zoom webinar. The speaker is Mariachiara Gasparini and her subject is Across the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau: Sino-Sogdian Textiles Beyond the Main Silk Routes.

“In the 6th century, the circulation of silk and embroidered textiles with zoomorphic motifs, often enclosed in pearl medallions, influenced Eurasian art. Although they have been often mistaken as ‘Sasanian,’ these textiles originated between Sogdiana and the western regions of China. However, only after the Islamization of Central Asia in the 8th century did these weavings evolve into new structures, and floral motifs were widely used to embellish or substitute the initial pearl medallions. By examining a group of 8th-9th-century weavings, which have recently appeared on the art market, in this paper, I discuss differences and variations between early and later structures and iconographic motifs. I argue that the Sogdian and Turko-Mongol trade might have also occurred beyond the main Silk Routes across the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau.” – Mariachiara Gasparini

This talk begins at 14:00 PST, which is 22:00 GMT and registration is required.

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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