Gayane Umerova: How do you assess the current state of art textiles, in particular, suzani?
Binafsha Nodir: The period of independence gave a historic chance to the revival of traditional arts and crafts: economic and institutional conditions of their development have changed, there was a change in the understanding of the aesthetic and social challenges of this segment of culture. Understanding of the national history and cultural heritage as important tools of self-identification have formed a new attitude to the traditional handicrafts. The strategy of independent Uzbekistan is aimed at securing its own national identity that most fully is manifested in the spiritual and cultural heritage – the monuments of ancient and medieval art, traditional crafts, folk and -poetic creativity, the promotion of cultural heritage, etc. In this regard, the State creates the most relevant economic (restoration of private property, tax benefits, investments in newly created Associations of Craftsmen) and social (assignment of honorary titles, state awards, prizes, creation of decent conditions for the work of craftsmen) conditions for the revival of forgotten traditional crafts and further development of their remaining types. Thanks to this cultural strategy the manual production of traditional textiles began to actively recover since the late 1990s. Special place in this process is given to the Uzbek hand embroidery and its symbol – suzani. Unlike the embroidery of the 1960-1980s, contemporary suzani have one significant advantage. Best modern suzani are based on the aesthetics and technology of the classical examples of embroidery of the late XIX – early XX centuries, which are, of all others, well appreciated at the auctions and galleries abroad. As an example the suzani by Madina Kasymbaeva made according to the motifs of the museum specimens have been exhibited in Tashkent at her solo exhibition “The Light of a Distant Star” (the organizers of the exhibition were the House of Photography of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan and the editorial board of SANAT magazine). In the same creative vein the skilled embroiderers of Shakhrisabz, Nurata, Bukhara, Shafirkan, Urgut, and Namangan are working today, reviving the tradition of embroidery of its heyday period. More difficult is the revival of old technologies and artistic techniques of hand embroidery in the regions such as Surkhandarya and western districts of Kashkadarya, and Karakalpakstan, in some regions of Ferghana Valley, where there are still strong traditions of embroidery of the mid-twentieth century. Traditions of Uzbek embroidery find creative expression in the different fields of modern design, such as fashion and interior aesthetics, etc.
G. U.: Is there, in your opinion, the need for legislative regulation of the development of textiles in our country, for example, adoption of new laws and regulations?
B. N.: Considering that in Uzbekistan the private sector of the economy is becoming more active, it would be expedient to initiate the law stimulating sponsorship and charity investments for small and medium business into development of art and traditional crafts. It is advisable through the tax preferences for businesses to establish in Uzbekistan the institution of humanitarian philanthropy – a capable partner of the State in the development of the national artistic culture. To coordinate the activities of various sectors of traditional textile and modern textile design, it seems advisable to create a Coordination Council on the examination of artistic quality. The first step in this direction is being done by the UNESCO Office in Uzbekistan, which, in partnership with local authorities and the Department of “Hunarmand” Association, in September of this year held the first Festival of traditional textiles of Uzbekistan “Atlas Bayrami” in Margilan, where the UNESCO certificates of the quality were awarded. These certificates will become the indicators of the quality level of the products of the present day masters of traditional textile and national design.
G. U.: How can you assess the commercial success of the personal exhibition of the embroidery master from Tashkent, Madina Kasymbaeva?
B. N.: Me and Madina Kasymbaeva did not set commercial objectives in this project. It was to some extent an ambitious project. In her work, M. Kasymbaeva appealed primarily to the traditions of the famous schools of embroidery of Shakhrisabz, Nurata, and Bukhara. However, the cherished dream of this craftswoman has always been the revival of Tashkent school of needlework embroidery, but due to the high complexity of reconstruction of the Tashkent suzani-palyak, which unlike suzani of other schools had a completely sewn up background, M. Kasymbaeva for a long time could not implement this idea. Production of one palyak of Tashkent school takes twice more time than the embroidery of the same size of other centers, while its high cost makes this work economically unprofitable. Therefore, the main objective of this exhibition project is demonstration of artistic and technical abilities of the masters in the revival of the unique traditions of the Tashkent school of hand embroidery, not surviving up to now. At the same time, eventually this exhibition project has gained commercial success, as she has received many orders from the visitors – both our citizens and foreign guests.
G. U.: What are the goals and prospects of exhibition activity in this segment of applied art?
B. N.: I think, conduction of such exhibition projects reinforces the artistic and creative component of the modern masters of embroidery, enhances their creative level and, eventually, forms conditions for the transformation of the craft into true art.
G. U.: Should an initiative of the scientific research in this field be supported by the government subsidies?
B. N.: Support to the research and advocacy in the field of applied art makes a part of the strategy of the State on revival of traditional values. The process of revival of traditional crafts, in particular Uzbek textiles, is broadly and regularly covered in the SANAT magazine of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan. There is substantial support within the system of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan. For example, the Institute of Art Studies, a group of scholars is engaged in the study of history and contemporary processes of applied art and design within the scope of the government grants, including the grant on “Tradition and continuity in the applied and fine arts of Uzbekistan of the XIX – XXI centuries” that is given for three years, where we study the problem of traditional textiles of Uzbekistan of the last two- three centuries. Unfortunately, the research results remain mostly unpublished and there is a rare chance of their quality printing, which does not allow you to see the richness of our textile heritage to a wide range of researchers, professionals and readers.
G. U.: Embroidery school of what region is most attractive to foreign and local buyers?
B. N.: According to the testimony of craftswomen, foreign customers order and buy more often the products made in the classic tradition of Shakhrisabz and Nurata schools of embroidery. Unfortunately, the local population often times is more prone to the motifs of Turkish embroidery which is alien to traditional Uzbek embroidery, although the local buyer has recently shown interest in the traditional embroidery of Shahrisabz, Bukhara, Gijduvan and Nurata.
G. U.: How the pricing policy in this segment may be the catalyst for transition of suzani into the category of decorative art and design objects?
B. N.: Pricing in this segment is determined spontaneously based on the demand of customers, the cost of manufacture and profitability. Considering the unpredictable price rates and demand for embroidery products, the State has introduced a preferential tax treatment for the products of traditional crafts.
G. U.: How do the local craftsmen position themselves and promote their products on domestic and foreign markets?
B. N.: On domestic market the famous craftsmen from Tashkent, Nurata, Shafirkan, Urgut, Namangan, Shakhrisabz and Bukhara are mastering the traditional know-how, classical patterns, they use natural dyes intrinsic to the textile samples of the XIX – beginning of ÕÕ centuries. The products created by them are in high demand among the foreign buyers since the quality of such products is much higher than that of the products targeted at the artificial factory-made materials and traditions of textiles of the 1950-1980s. Such famous masters of textiles as M. Kasymbaeva, I. Davletov, R. Mirzaakhmedov, the Narzullaev dynasty, and others have a possibility of continuous implementation of their products in the private or leased galleries, showrooms, and local and international traditional fairs. With regard to the implementation of the unique samples of embroidery at the foreign auctions, we can say the unfortunately the modern products of the Uzbek masters are not considered as separate lots on the well-known trading platforms.
G. U.: What are the prospects of traditional textiles of Uzbekistan?
B. N.: Modern products of embroidery inspired by ancient samples: carpets and clothing made of traditional fabrics are in great demand in the foreign market. At the same time, in recent years there is a steadily growing demand for the textile products of traditional nature by the local population. This mainly applies to the different types of silk and semi-silk fabrics, printed cloth used for the manufacture of clothing, accessories, and interior decor. Sales and revenues allow craftsmen to expand their handicraft production, providing employment to the population of Uzbekistan. Moreover, products based on traditional motifs and forms play an important role in preservation of national identity, confronting the globalization process. Local fashion designers when developing their collections increasingly use the abre fabrics. By the way, not only on local catwalks but also on the worldwide scale we can see the interest in the Uzbek ikat (Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Gucci, Balenciaga, etc.)
On the basis of the traditional use of national branding in Uzbekistan there is a whole network of souvenir shops and stores with products of wide consumption that use the aesthetics of traditional textiles. On the other hand, the excessive use of ethnic traditions often leads to psychological fatigue of consumers and promotes a one-sided development of modern Uzbek design.
G. U.: What is your attitude to the participation of craftswomen in the Art Bazaars?
B. N.: The regular fairs in the format of the art market, without losing its relevance, are very important for the economic functioning of traditional crafts. At the same time, due to the purely commercial objectives such fairs may adversely affect the formation of high aesthetic and artistic criteria of the craftsmanship. I think that in this respect the exhibition of M. Kasymbaeva, which we discussed at the beginning of our interview, is the reference model for the development of suzani, this exquisite form of art.
G. U.: What can render the masters of suzani successful today?
B. N.: The key to commercial success of the suzani craftswomen is primarily a high level of professionalism and the ability to creatively adapt traditions of the past centuries to the modern products. If in the past the craftswomen creating their drawings and compositions of the embroidery were based on their own experience, the canons and traditions of a particular school, today many of them are focused on the tastes of consumers, at fashion trends that can negatively affect further development of the traditional Uzbek embroidery. Certainly, this does not mean that one should blindly copy old samples. It is necessary to continue the tradition by adding something new. After all, the amazing samples of the embroideries of previous centuries once were also new.