Arts and Crafts in Central Asia
The exhibition looks at the relationship between arts and crafts, identity, materiality, and a state’s political and structural organisation using the examples of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and the Xinjiang-based ethnic group of the Uyghurs. The different political and economic systems in the region since the mid-nineteenth century brought with them profound changes in the identities of Central Asian populations – from often local or religious identities to such associated with the new nation states. At the same time the significance of their material and immaterial culture changed – from artisan craftwork as a status symbol of wealthy classes to a national symbol. Under Soviet rule, for example, knowledge of traditional art was in danger of being partially lost or was commercialized, like in pre-independence Turkmenistan. Independent potters became workers who created mass-produced porcelain in factories. Still, arts and crafts workshops established themselves as well. During the emirate in what is now Uzbekistan, gold-embroidered coats gave their wearers rank and status; the modern festive coats are part of a national costume and are still given as gifts on state visits today.
In the gallery, the gorgeous textiles, carpets, and ceramics are presented by themselves on four undulant display platforms. Incorporated in the wave elements are large showcases for the display of clothes, such as a dark red velvet woman’s coat with silver silk embroidery from West Turkestan, today Uzbekistan. The flat display cases featuring jewellery and headgear seem to literally hover above the low wave endings. The explanatory notes on the display cases and a media station address the transformations of the objects, their manufacturing conditions and meanings. Felt carpets and the kalpak, a men’s hat made of the same material, are important symbols of Kyrgyz identity today. In 2012, the ala-kiyiz and shyrdak felt carpets, which are woven from sheep’s wool and trace back to a nomadic tradition, were inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage List.