Arts and Crafts of the Ferghana Valley: Traditions and Innovations

Issue #3 • 890

Over the years of independence, all regions of Uzbekistan have created an environment that favours further development and revival of traditional arts and crafts.  Contemporary applied arts in the Ferghana Valley, for example, are represented by traditional crafts such as handmade embroidery, ceramics, chasing, jewellery-making, carving and painting on wood, as well as the manufacturing of knives, beshik cradles, printed cloth, and hand-woven silks.

Embroidery.  Masters of this craft take market demand into account.  For instance, items created by Latif Sadriddinov from Namangan show the master’s pronounced individual style, along with traditional features characteristic of Namangan embroidery.  His products stand out for their high quality workmanship in ilma technique – a crochet needle work. For embroidery base Sadriddinov primarily uses silk and cotton fabrics of red and yellowish moss-green shades, which, he believes, was typical of the traditional Namangan embroidery of the last century. These fabrics are produced mostly in Namangan and Marghilan. Items created by Sadriddinov include large-size suzane panels and medium-size nim suzani, as well as cushion covers, table cloths, curtains and other things intended for interior decoration.

In his suzane designs Sadriddinov uses popular motifs of both Namangan traditional embroidery, and renowned hand embroidery schools of Bukhara, Samarqand, Nurata, etc. The designs include almond patterns, palak solar symbol representing the solar disk, islimi winding vegetable shoots, etc.
A group of women-embroiderers led by Manzura Yusupova from Andijan tend to follow local traditions. They often create their embroidery on a patterned semi-silk or silk fabric, which gives their suzane special colour and texture, even with minimal use of ornamental motifs. The women-masters from the Yusupova’s group do not disregard market requirements either, which is reflected in both the product range and ornamental content.  The most sought after are decorative panels in different sizes, as well as cushion covers, tea cosies, skullcaps and souvenir purses.  The compositions made by the Andijan masters are dominated by traditional Andijan embroidery patterns: bodom (almond), kalampir (pepper), anor (pomegranate), walnut-tree leaves, and olma gul (apple blossom).

Ceramics. Modern-day ceramics of the Ferghana Valley is represented by products wrought by masters of three leading centres: Rishtan, Gurumsarai and Andijan. The most renowned craftsman is Sharafiddin Yusupov, the Rishtan ceramics master, who perfected different brush painting techniques, achieving true beauty and originality of his products. Yusupov focuses primarily on making and ornamenting large lagan platters.
One of his favourite ornamental motifs is pomegranate, the ancient symbol of nature’s bounty and fertility. Although the motif runs through Yusupov’s entire art, one will not find two identical images of it in all the different platters. The same is true for the bodomgul (almond blossom) and kumgan (jar) motifs. Quite interesting are the compositional structure and colour solutions of the platters the master created in 2005. Here one can find motifs of Uighur designs qora kalam, object ornaments patnis and tumor, and chayon (scorpion). In recent years, Yusupov began to turn to the motifs and techniques of the Gurumsarai ceramics, which can be seen in the ornamentation of a wide edging line in some of his lagans created in 2011-2012.
Another prolific master is Bakhtiyor Nazirov from Rishtan, who makes traditional bowls of different sizes: shokosa, dukki kosa, labagi kosa; small-size platters, such as miyona tovok, and norin tovok, as well as lagans, vases, teapots, piala tea-cups, etc. His products are characterized by liberal interpretation of old ornamental themes and motifs. Nazirov experiments with form too, shaping his lagans to resemble a stylized human face, or more often a fish. These experiments are not always successful: sometimes items are overloaded with patterns. Nazirov’s work represents a kind of innovative practice in the framework of Rishtan ceramic style.

Traditions of the Gurumsarai ceramics feature in the works by Vakhob Buvaev, whose favourite ceramic forms are lagan, badia, damtavok and different kinds of flatware. To ornament his products, the master traditionally uses a quatrefoil (chorbarg), a cross-shape pattern (butsimon bezak), different variations of a cockscomb (huroz tojt) motif, a star-like polygons, etc. The master keeps the monumental and somewhat archaic style typical of Gurumsarai ceramics. Buvaev’s innovation of a kind is a series of tall jars or vases ornamented around the body with the Gurumsarai mirror pattern in the form of drop-shape motifs; yet he largely follows the principles and traditions of the old Gurumsarai style, only occasionally, very gently and unassumingly, introducing his own innovative alterations.

High technological culture of workmanship and masterful artistic finishing distinguish the items wrought by Mirzabakhrom Abduvahabov who uses local Andijan clay as his primary material, strengthening it with red clay from the neighboring Isfara. Abduvahabov uses lead glaze that gives most of his items yellowish colour. Yet there are also deep- and light-blue specimens covered with ishkor glaze. A special feature of Abduvahabov’s painting style is similarity with ornamentation techniques of the Gurumsarai masters, although he uses his own solutions, too.

The manufacturers of glazed ceramics in the Ferghana Valley remain true to traditional techniques and shapes, while innovations are primarily associated with changes in interpretation of selected ornamental elements and shapes; all in all, the tendency to keep and develop local tradition prevails.

Chasing. In the 1990s, the traditions of Marghilan chasing school are maintained and perfected by master Maksud Madaliev and his family, who create elegantly shaped and exquisitely ornamented items. The Madaliev dynasty, representing the Marghilan chasing centre, work both in Marghilan and Tashkent. For the first time in this period, the chasing masters engaged in architectural interior design, besides making utensils. Thus, Madaliev and his family created chased items for the Juma mosque interior in Ferghana.
Searching for new solutions is also characteristic of the work of Zakir Gafurov, chaser from Ferghana. Regrettably, in recent years, his products show a tendency toward ornamentalism, manifested in excessively saturated decor and added inlays. Just as the Madaliev dynasty, Gafurov would often use gemstones and faience inlay, as well as complex lacy openwork technique (shabaka). This desire for rich ornamentation can result in the loss of harmony between form and pattern, characteristic of the Ferghana school. In this regard, more appealing is the art of Fazyl Obidov, master from Kokand. He maintains the classic techniques of the Kokand chasing, only occasionally and conservatively introducing changes to the items.

Masters of contemporary Ferghana chasing school, while preserving traditional kinds of products – jars, trays, washing bowls, etc., also create them in new shapes: sets of tall jars, tea-cups and small serving trays, decorative chased panels, “chandelier” lamps, jewel-boxes, etc.
Jewellery-making. Strong adherence to traditions can be seen in the art of a Marghilan jeweller Y. Abdujabarov who makes predominantly women’s jewellery: besh-ayak and uch-ayak earrings that consist of a ring with pendants; bracelets, rings, etc. The master employs stamping, casting, filigree and granulation techniques, primarily working with silver and nickel silver; he uses gold for custom-made items. Coral, turquoise, and natural stones are used for inlay.

For making knives, technology and art are also important. Master Hassan Umarov from Kokand makes knives in guldor pichok style: it is a ceremonial, ornamented knife that can have different shapes; handle is decorated with ivory inlay and metal inserts. Names depend on the shape of either a handle (integral round, faceted, etc.), or a blade. Abdumalik Mukhitdinov from Andijan makes knives with pointed blades in a leather or metal case. The handles are also different: integral and assembled, wooden and ivory, inlaid and painted. Knife types are defined by the blade: tol bargi – willow leaf; kaiki pichok – hogback shape; tugri pichok – straight knife; avrador pichok – half of the blade close to the tip remains pale, while the other half is dark. The master believes that wide-bladed knives are no longer in trend. These days he makes thin knives – of a better quality and more popular.

Woodcarving of the Ferghana Valley is particularly appealing. The most active in Kokand is a group of wood-carvers led by Jahangir Abdullaev, son of the renowned woodcarver Abdugani Abdullaev. The masters get a lot of orders for architecture projects; they are well equipped and skilled in a variety of carving techniques, including a sophisticated technique of three-dimensional architectural assemblies known as mukarnaskori.
The craft of making carved items of wood also attracted Y. Utaganov, a master from Andijan, who works together with his sons and apprentices. He creates items such as lavh bookstand, jewellery boxes, decorative lagans, pencil-boxes, and furniture: dressing tables, arm-chairs, tables, chairs, etc. In recent years Utaganov focuses more on making pillars, doors and other fixtures of carved wood for large construction projects.
Beshik cradles. The revival of traditional customs and family rituals has generated a demand for beshik cradles in the markets of the Fergana Valley cities and towns. The work of two masters from two different cities, Marghilan and Andijan, shows different technological and artistic techniques. Masters of Andijan use different types of timber, while masters from Marghilan – only black willow. Andijan products are more labour-intensive and costly, featuring wood carving; while in Marghilan they use painting on wood.
Beshik master Dilmurod Eshmatov from Andijan makes about 12 kinds of beshik cradles: simple ones, like a crib; folding cradles for travellers; cradles with automatic switching of lullabies and cradle-rocking mechanism, etc. Some items are decorated with wood-carving, some are painted. Master Rakhmonali Shokirov from Marghilan makes simpler, mostly painted beshik, belanchak rope swings, aravacha wooden strollers for small children, and miniature souvenir beshik. He usually paints the cradles in one colour, mostly brown. Beshik are painted by the women of the family: the craft is a family-run business.
Wood painting is represented by the art of a renowned Namangan master A. Akparov who combines work on architecture projects with making household items: decorative tables of different shapes, lagan platters, vases, etc. Maintaining the system of traditional ornamental constructions, the master brings his own modern perception into his works. He uses two basic ornament types: geometric – girikh, and vegetable – islimi. The combination of these two ornament types creates the overall decorative scheme of painting on wood.

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