Authenticity and Innovation in Traditional Crafts of Uzbekistan in 1991-2011

Issue #1 • 1653

15 years ago, Islam Karimov, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, issued a Decree “On government support to further development of traditional arts and crafts,” and the Journal now offers an article by Academician Akbar Khakimov where he gives an overview of traditional arts and crafts development during the period of independence. With the overall positive dynamics, there are some unexplored art-related issues that require more detailed study. In this regard, the editors plan to publish a series of Dr. Khakimov’s articles addressing the current situation in selected traditional crafts, as well as practices of contemporary craftsmen of Uzbekistan in the context of authenticity and innovation.


The attainment of independence in Uzbekistan largely determined the pattern of subsequent development of traditional arts and crafts. Despite major economic difficulties the country faced in the early years of its independent development, the government committed to provide economic support to art and culture, including traditional arts and crafts, create enabling environment for private enterprise development, and grant economic and tax benefits to the masters of applied art, thus encouraging the perfecting and revival of traditional arts and crafts. Another important factor was one related to ideology: the naturally developing sense of national identity prompted a growing increased interest in the nation’s cultural heritage.

From 1993, Uzbekistan’s traditional ceramics started getting out of crisis. Masters from Rishtan U. Ashurov, I. Kamilov (Jr.), Sh. Yusupov, A. Tairov, R. Usmanov, A. Isanov, N. Kadyrov and others, employing the ishkor glaze technology, continued to revive traditional shapes. The major centers of Khorezmian ceramics are Madyr village located near Hanka district centre, and Kattabag village not far from Yangiaryk district center. Regrettably, issues have begun to surface. For instance, in 2010, during the Asrlar Sadosi traditional culture festival Khorezmian masters showed the present author some specimens of blue ceramics coated by lead glaze, instead of ishkor. This technological “innovation” resulted in a product with uncharacteristically graphic and “dry” colouring.

The shapes of ceramic items produced by Bukhara and SamarqandSchools in the 1990s develop the traditions of preceding decades; these traditions are maintained by Gijduvan masters Alisher and Abdullo Narzullaevs and their students: a master from Urgut Nugman Oblakulov, and master from Denau Zuhur Rasulov. Alisher Narzullaev has been particularly successful; he invests his own resources to build a large traditional arts centre in Gijduvan; the centre will provide work space not only for ceramists, but also for masters of other traditional handicrafts of the Bukhara region, such as embroidery, carpet weaving, jewellery-making, chasing, etc.

The 1990s saw the revival of traditional chasing in Margilan, Khiva, and Tashkent; the art is also on the rise in Bukhara. Modern chasers use brass and bronze, and occasionally copper, aluminium and nickel silver. For inlaid design they use silver, copper, mother-of-pearl, turquoise and enamel. In the 1990s, the traditions of the Kokand chasing school were carried on by master Maksud Madaliev and his family who created exquisitely shaped and ornamented items. Bukhara, too, has a talented group of chasers working there. In Khiva, the chasing tradition has also survived, yet it is not maintained as actively.

Many traditional master-craftsmen continue to develop the tradition of jewelry-making. In Tashkent, for example, they are N. Kholmatov, F. Dadamukhamedov, G. Yuldasheva, U. Holmuradov and others, whose items combine age-old traditions of Uzbek jewelry-making art with an individual creative inquiry of a contemporary artist.

In the 1990s, gold embroidery became a very popular type of crafts. Apart from its historically evolved centre in Bukhara, home to a successful dynasty master B. Jumaev, gold embroidery is now practiced in almost all provinces and districts of Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, the original tradition of Bukhara gold embroidery started turning into a kitsch, which is inconsiderately promoted by mass media as a high standard in art.

Khorezm, Samarqand, Urgut, Nurata, the FerghanaValley, Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya provinces revive traditional carpet-making, the product of which is in particularly great demand in southern and south-western regions of Uzbekistan. Shops producing silk carpets open in Tashkent, Bukhara, Khiva and other cities of Uzbekistan. These carpets sell very well, and their ornamentation features a wide range of motifs: from traditional Uzbek carpet designs, to the subject scenes from Oriental miniatures.

In the 1990s, in different parts of Uzbekistan, especially in the FerganaValley cities of Margilan and Kokand, people started to re-establish hand-made silk production. Recently, some well-known Italian, French, Japanese and American fashion designers have been showing interest in traditional Uzbek silks. Specific mention should be made of the dynasty master Rasul Mirzaakhmedov who promoted natural pigment dyeing throughout the country and created a crafts centre in Margilan; his product is both highly marketable, and tasteful, showing exquisite qualities of traditional aesthetics.

Modern embroidery, developing as a cottage industry, has experienced certain transformations. Wall-rug embroidery (like syuzane) gets increasingly localized in urban and suburban areas, such as Urgut, Nurata, Kattakurgan, Baisun, Denau, Sherabad, Shurchi, Saryasiya, Kitab, Shakhrisabz, Kasan, Kamashi, Guzar, Namangan, Andijan, Gallaaral, Bakhmal, and Shafirkan. The largest of these centres is Urgut and surrounding villages: Gus, Ispenze, Suflen, Payshanba… Local embroidery style continues the tradition of the late 19th century Samarqand embroidery. Other major embroidery centers continue to run in Chust, Margilan, Andijan, Shakhrisabz, Kitab, and Baysun. Quite remarkable is the experience of a dynasty embroiderer and winner of the national “Tashabbus” contest Zukhra Oblaberdieva (Bukhara Province), as well as the practice of a family couple from Shafirkan Farhod Ramazanov (yarn dyeing) and Muhabbat Kuchkorova (design), who currently employ about 300 women-masters. Successful creative experience has been shown by a woman-master from Tashkent Madina Kasymbaeva who works in a complex ilma technique, using traditional embroidery motifs of Nurata and Shahrisabz.

Measures taken by the government and number of international organizations to develop traditional arts and crafts inspire hope for their revival and evolution in Uzbekistan.

All the aforementioned forms of traditional arts and crafts, despite a large number of publications in the media, require that scholars and art historians carefully study, analyze, examine and address them in their research.

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