Oq-Enli Carpet: Genesis, Artistic Features and Renaissance Issue

Issue #2 • 1358

Baysun carpet weaving, the gem of traditional art, has the history of many centuries. In early days local villages produced long-fleece carpets, and now the local production is limited only to pile-free floor rugs such as gajari, terma, takyr, etc.

A special kind of Baysun carpets are the uniquely wrought and decorated oq-enli (the white stripe) carpets. Usually oq-enli is not large: 1.5 by 2 metres. These carpets were manufactured mainly by formerly nomadic Kungrat tribe to decorate yurt walls; yet even today, following the ancient tradition, Kungrat people adorn the walls of their homes with these carpets. Given that, apart from Surkhandarya, the Kungrat also settled in provinces such as Kashkadarya, Bukhara and Khorezm, it can be assumed that these kinds of carpets were common in those places too. One cannot exclude the possibility that these items were also produced by other formerly nomadic tribes. This is evidenced by an oq-enli carpet we discovered during “Asrlar Sadosi” folk culture festival held in Kitab in May 2008. A woman master Oysara Botirova (I960) who lives in Batosh village of Qarshi District (Kashkadarya Province) calls the carpet she produced sholgilyam rather than oq-enli. Although in terms of manufacturing technique the carpet is analogous to oq-enli carpets, its size – 5 by 1.7 metres – exceeds their regular dimensions. The master traditionally refers to the embroidered pattern as tevana, yet she does not know how the term translates. Another important piece of information was discovered: the author of the carpet and her relatives believe that they belong to Mangyt tribe rather than Kungrat, which once again confirms the presence of oq-enli carpets manufacturing centres beyond Baysun and perhaps their wider spread among other formerly nomadic peoples of Amudaryaarea.

It Baysun itself it is difficult to find ancient specimens of’oq-enli carpets. The methods of creating oq-enli are different from those employed in manufacturing other carpets. The specificity of oq-enli is a combined technique: the carpet is composed of dark and white bands sewn together. The dark stripe is woven in gajari technique, and the white one bears an embroidered ornamental design. Patterns embroidered on a white stripe constitute the main expressive part of their decor. The dark stripe is adorned primarily with geometric motifs. The ornamentation of the white stripes is most peculiar. Therefore, the artistic and aesthetic value of oq-enli is not in the carpet weaving technique, but in the skilfully performed embroidery. The oq-enli white stripe decor uses designs borrowed from embroidered items such as suzane, bugjoma, zardevor, etc., which shows a relationship between the traditions of embroidery and carpet weaving. It is also possible that the genesis of white embroidered stripes in oq-enli carpets goes back to ak-baskur – white ornamental ribbons decorating yurt interior of nomadic nations such as Karakalpak, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and others.

It should be noted that there has been no specialist research on oq-enli carpets, and in academic literature there is basically no data available on their genesis, geographical occurrence and decor. For instance, V. G. Moshkova’s fundamental monograph on Central Asian carpets contains no mentioning of oq-enli at all (1). The authors of a book on Baysun crafts have included oq-enli carpets into one of the five carpet varieties typical of the region (2), describing a number of oq-enli items, the technique of the white stripe embroidering (2, p. 155) and analyzing the embroidered stripes ornament (2, p. 158). By and large, the book is the first source that academically introduced information about oq-enli as an original type of carpet in its own right.

Yet the uniqueness and originality of oq-enli carpets, and particularly their ornamentation embroidered on the white stripes require more thorough and careful examination. As a mater of fact, after the aforementioned monograph had been published, new interesting specimens were discovered, also in places outside Baysun, which considerably enriched the available material and our ideas about evolution of oq-enli decor and its ornamentation techniques. The author of this article was kindly given access to these specimens by Messrs. Barry Lane, A. Khakimov, A. Aripov, K. Jumaev and others. Moreover, at the Crafts Renaissance Centre in Baysun, masters, using local dyes, started to create new oq-enli specimens based on the late 19th and early 20th century samples, which also requires critical assessment.

In 2006 Candidate of Science Koryogi Jumaev, the Director of Sitorai Mokhi-hosa sanctuary-museum provided photographs of some unique oq-enli specimens kept in his private collection. These specimens significantly expand the knowledge about the decor of these items, particularly about their ornamentation embroidered on the oq-enli white stripes. For example, in this collection, along with design mentioned in the monograph on Baysun crafts (2, p. 158), one can see ornamental motifs that were never seen before on the carpets known to us: stylized images of a steam teapot, a scorpion, a bird, a tulip bud on a stem, meander and chess patterns, and rhomboid ornament. The oq-enli carpets from Jumaev’s collection not only bear rich ornamentation, but are also wrought in an original manner. The colours are transparent, and embroidered designs on the white stripes are quite densely positioned and their pattern and colouring are contrasted and saturated.

The Baysun oq-enli carpets do not feature this density of embroidered design. The oq-enli ornamentation shows a peculiar symbiosis of artistic traditions of sedentary and nomadic nations.

Interesting oq-enli specimens were discovered in 2006 by Academician Akbar Khakimov and Head of UNESCO Office in Uzbekistan Mr. Barry Lane during their expedition to Urgut with an objective to procure exhibits for the Museum of Baysun Applied Arts that opened in the same year. The oq-enli carpets form Mr. Barry Lane’s collection bore peculiar motifs: one of the stripes featured a row of repeated rhomboid patterns with a cross inside (Table I, 7), and the other was adorned with a multi-beam star surrounded by ornamental Ж-shaped designs (Table I, b). The pattern is embroidered with pink and light-blue filaments. The woven part that was usually performed mgajari technique, is made of yarn coloured in light-brown and light-ashen colours. The white stripes of oq-enli carpets were usually narrower than dark ones.

Of a particular interest are the ornamental motifs on a white stripe of a unique oq-enli carpet procured for the Museum of Baysun Applied Arts, dating early 20th century (5). Standing out among them are stylized images of a trident pattern, a crescent moon and a star, a cock’s comb flower, a quatrefoil, a turtle, etc. (Table I, 4, 10; Table II, 5, 6; Table 111,3).

Additional information about oq-enli carpets we also received from Mm Aripov, Manager of the Baysun Crafts Centre. According to him, the tradition of decorating the carpet white stripe with an embroidered pattern has ancient roots.. Eventually, however, approximately in early 19th century, they started producing carpets with embroidered patterns on red (kyzyl enli) and black (kora enli) stripes. These carpets with embroidery on brown and red stripes, rather than on white ones, were manufactured in Machai mountainous village in Baysun District.

Oq-enli carpets created in the first half of the 20th century have basically not survived as everyday use items in local homes, and in the carpets and embroidery produced over the last 40-60 years old technology, techniques and designs, as well as natural dyes were no longer used.

For example, an oq-enli carpet in the home of B. Juraev who lives in Kugrat village called Tuda (Baysun District) is characterized by oq-enli decorative style of 1970s – 1990s. Vegetable and geometric designs on a white stripe are embroidered boldly and densely; their yellow, red and purple colours are eye-catching (2, p. 161). This is the reason why the original principle of carpet-making traditions is broken. Moreover, in oq-enli carpets created in 1970s – 2000s in Tuda, Besherkak, Dashtigoz and Khojabulgan villages (2, pp. 161-163) along with traditional designs of old oq-enli carpets (stellar, rhomboid and horn-shape motifs (See Table 1,1,2; Table II, 3, 4,7) new or variations of old patterns are used, which creates an impression of eclecticism and bad taste. The pattern on dark stripes performed in gajari technique is smaller and therefore unnoticeable in the overall decorative solution of oq-enli.

Embroidered patterns on the white stripes of oq-enli we examined can be divided into three main kinds:
1) geometric and character- symbolic;
2) vegetable and character mix;
3)mixed vegetable/zoomorphic, vegetable/object and zoomorphic.

Notably, geometric and character motifs dominate in the oq-enli carpets we studied, which is characteristic of the ornamentation on applied art items created by nomadic people. The oq-enli carpet from Mr. Barry Lane’s private collection is decorated by a combination of geometric and character designs (Table 1,6,9). By and large, its ornamentation can be divided into two groups. The first group that consists of large patterns, includes motifs such as arrowhead, paired stars, rhomboid design and geometric shapes (Table 1,1,5-9). The second group with smaller patterns includes motifs typical of gajari carpet-making technique (Table I, 1-4). Among vegetable patterns the oq-enli carpets mainly feature cock’s comb flower, rose and tulip (Table 1,1-2). Also popular as oq-enli carpet decoration is kochkarak motif (Table II, 3, 4, 7) sheep horns, which is widely used in carpet ornamentation and embroidery of sedentary Kyrgyz and Kazakh peoples (4), In the white stripe embroidery one can also find motifs such as bodomgul (almond blossom) and paired cock’s comb flowers (Table II, 5, 6). Sometimes inside a stretched pattern of the cock’s comb flower there is a vertically embroidered similar paired vegetable motif (Table II, 8).

On the white stripes of oq-enli from K. Jumaev’s collection a rhythmical repetition of a square-like shape with flowery shoots at its four corners and cross-shape motif inside is embroidered with yellow, green and blue filaments (Table II, 9), attracting the eye with harmonious design solution and colouring. Stylized vegetable/cereal and geometric motifs characteristic of Baysun oq-enli carpets are rare in this collection. Embroidered bird motifs and paired teapots may indicate a relation of these oq-enli makers to the culture and traditions of sedentary or urban population, although the pattern that is rhythmically repeated between paired teapots apparently shows the traditions of nomadic design (Table III, 1-2).

An oq-enli carpet from the collection of the Museum of Baysun Applied Arts features a unique pattern in the form of a stylized turtle; this motif cannot be found in any other oq-enli compositions (Table 111,3).

Given the peculiarity of oq-enli designs that combine the technique of weaving and embroidery, in 2006 the women masters from the Baysun Crafts Centre made a decision to revive old forgotten traditions, patterns and techniques which were once employed in manufacturing of these carpets. As models for the white stripe designs they selected old oq-enli carpets purchased in Baysun and kept in private collections. In keeping with the tradition, most of these revived oq-enli carpets retain their white stripe with designs embroidered on them. These motifs were borrowed from old specimens, and filaments were dyed with vegetable pigments the recipes of which are still remembered by craftswomen.

As old carpets used yarn coloured with vegetable dyes, they advantageously compare to the carpets dating to mid and late 20th century when chemical dyes were used, Thus, the revived specimens retain old technology and natural beauty of the former style. Along with oq-enli carpets bearing a white stripe, the craftswomen from the Baysun Crafts Centre create carpets with designs embroidered on brown and red stripes, where patterns repeat the decor of the white stripe carpets. These carpets also deserve praise.

Carpets revived by Baysun craftswomen are purchased mainly by visiting tourists on the markets in Tashkent or abroad where the Baysun Crafts Centre representatives travel with the samples. Unfortunately, local people still regularly use synthetic dyes, old techniques are not followed and former oq-enli patterns disappear. Sometimes embroidered patterns are applied not on the special carpets stripes, but on stripes wrought mgajari technique, which also ruins the traditional aesthetics of these wonderful carpets. In view of the above it is very important to work towards the revival of the remarkable oq-enli carpets and to study them properly in the framework of the Baysun Crafts Centre’s activities.

Zilola Nasyrova

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