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Central Asia has a long, complex and often violent history further
complicated by its being a melting pot of different civilizations. Over many
centuries the surrounding eastern and western cultures China, Europe,
India and Persia exchanged their goods and ideas via the Silk Road, which
passed through the middle of Central Asia. Continual interaction took place
via these trade routes between raiders and conquerors, traders, nomads and oasis
dwellers, resulting among other things in the transfer and blending of ideas,
motifs, technology and commodities. Not to mention the religious influences
over the centuries inspired by inspired by Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaenism,
Nestorian Christianity and of course, Islam. This cultural exchange impacted
on the arts and crafts of Central Asia, and in turn the materials and techniques
of this vast region were transferred to neighbouring cultures.
However, over time seventy years of Soviet domination in Central
Asia had nearly destroyed the traditional crafts and culture of the former nomadic
tribes of Aral Sea Basin, as well as seriously degraded the region's once fertile
landscape, leaving the local people with few options for income generation.
Although examples of their distinct works and techniques still live on.
Central Asia is home to some of the greatest Islamic architectural treasures the world has ever known, and whilst now many lie neglected or abandoned, their remnants bear testimony to their former glory.
It was in 1369 that Timur Lenk (Tamerlane), in having chosen it as his capital, resolved to make it the most beautiful city in the universe. Artists, architects, and artisans from everywhere in his empire were brought to Samarkand to build the monuments Timur decreed must be the largest and most beautiful in Islam, with edifices such as his own mausoleum and the Great Mosque called the Bibi Khanum in homage to his wife. Among its archiectural attractions are: The cemetary of Shah-I--Zindeh, The Mausoleums of Timur Lenk, Bibi Khanum, Rukhabad, Ishrat Khaneh, Ak-Saray, and the Registan and its madrasaa to name a few.
In 1220, Bukhara was taken and sacked by the Mongols of Ghengis Kahn and htereafter became part of the empire ruled by Timur Lenk and his descendants. Amongst its main architectural monuments are: the Mausoleums of the Samanids, Chashma Ayyub, Buyan Quli Khan, and Sayf al-Din Bukharzi, the Kalayan Complex, the mosques of Maghak-i Attari and Balyand.
The tradition of carpet weaving in Central Asia is ancient. Carpets, mainly woven by numerous home-workers in rural areas, are perfect in technique and design. Since ancient times, carpets with long pile, julkhirs, have been favored by rural inhabitants. Nowadays it enjoys wide popularity for its ornamentation and correspondence to modern trends in the world carpet making.
Fabrics are diverse in the countries that make up Central Asia with some techniques being distinct to . Some , such as kokhma - is a fabric which is plain striped in various colors, whereas, terma and gadjari, is a fabric woven in pattern with different methods of "crisscross overlap" technique and ornamented with rows of small geometrical vegetal and zoomorphic motifs; arabi is a cloth, which is woven in the so-called clearance method. Over the past 50 years, the method of weaving and ornamenting arabi palahses has been practiced on a large scale in all Central Asian Republics.
The art of metal chasing, the art of decorating metal items in
relief, goes back to the beginning of Central Asian civilization. However, it
was in the eleventh century that copper gained popularity and ornamental decoration
became the predominant style. Local artisans created embossed work in various
metals - gold, silver, copper, bronze. The designs typically found within the
engravings are floral patterns (islimi), weeping willows (majnun-tol), nightingale's
eyes (chashmi-bulbul) and sun rays (hurshid). Metal chasers traditionally produced
water vessels, serving trays and plates, which served practical purposes, and
also displayed wealth. In the early 20th century, there were over 50 artistic
copper smiths in Bukhara. Over time, the Bukharan school of embossing has been
affected the least by outside influences and has preserved the ancient forms
and reserved style of the past.
Wood carving originated as a means of decorating the posts and beams that were widely used in the ancient architecture of Central Asia. Over time, wood carving was used to decorate other items; including doors, tables, pencil boes, jewelry boxes, and cutting boards. Another particularly interesting piece of work is the "lavkh", which is an ancient bookholder that was traditionally used for the Koran. The lavkh is carved from one piece of wood and can be set up in six different positions. The elaborate ornamentation of wood carving typically includes floral designs and geometrical patterns.
Ceramics hold a prominent place among the numerous forms of popular applied art. The first specimens of earthenware discovered in Central Asia go back to antiquities, and in all times fine pieces of fancy ceramic articles were made with uncommon expressiveness and laconism.
Dishes, bowls, vases, and jugs, of various sizes, ranging from huge to miniature ones, handy and refined in shape, were in great demand for centuries. They are notable for the skillfulness and beauty of their shape, ornamentation, and the harmony and sense of proportion in the use of colours.
To learn more about ceramics found at a Central Asia civilization as old as Sumeria click here
Textiles were of paramount importance in politics, economy, and culture. Social positions were defined by textiles and costume. Textiles were also tangible standards of value that were used as currency, as payment of taxes, and as symbols of imperial patronage. As diplomats, merchants, and missionaries moved from region to region across Asia, so did artistic motifs and designs, many of which found their way into ceramics or other decorative arts. Evolution of styles and techniques also resulted from the forced relocation of artisans captured as prisoners of war.In the 19th century, in western Central Asia, there was an extraordinary flowering of the art of ikat. Central Asian ikat fabrics evolved from a lengthy tradition of textile production, yet were uniquely, astonishingly inventive. Ikats are patterned textiles produced by tying and resist-dying the warp and/or weft threads before weaving, a technique known in many parts of the world
The Central Asian ikat weaving process is thought to have begun in the city of Bukhara. The city of Bukhara had the most vital economy, the most active trade, and the greatest amount of surplus wealth. In Bukhara there were over 50 neighborhoods involved in textile production of all kinds. There were many bazaars, each with its own specific range of goods, for both locally made and imported wares.
Most of the artistic textile production from 19th century Central Asia comes either from the nomadic steppe or from the embroidery work of urban and rural women - well established, conservative and long standing types of production but Ikat was entirely different. It was the work of men. Instead of a single woman or the women from a single family, a whole variety of specialized craftsmen performed the various stages of the ikat making process. In discussions of Central Asian textiles, there is often a tendency to divide the urban arts along ethnic lines in much the same way as tribal art from the nomadic tradition is broken down. You can only speak of ikat in these terms if you are talking about the stages of its production. The ikat process involved practically every ethnic group within the cities. It drew on the skills and creative abilities of Uzbeks and Tadjiks, Muslims and Jews.
Waves of invasion and migration had brought together people of many ethnic
and linguistic backgrounds in urban Central Asia Uzbek, Tadjik, Iranian
and Jews. When we look at the production of ikat we can see the multiple skills
- and inter-ethnic cooperation - required to make such a complex textile. Their
communities remained largely in opposition, but individuals within the majority
Sunni Muslim, the minority Shia and minority Jewish population worked
together; joining their talents in the production of ikat silks.
Among the artistic fashions of Central Asia music and dance occupied a special place with instruments such as flutes, percussion (gongs and drums) and stringed instruments, harps, lutes and the pipa of Iran fusing together to form a distinct Central Asian sound. Central Asian music took shape in ancient times when the urban cultures of Central Asia came to be. In various places, art as a profession, became a feature of family celebrations and festivities, creating a bond among the members of the new societies. Gradually theatre was added to the musicians' performance, expanding the coverage of music and dance, especially with the addition of pictures. These activities led to an increased devotion to feelings in the execution of the movements, a better appreciation of the music and the accompanying dance, and a discovery of more effective and direct modes of delivery. The art of the professional dance groups reached very high degrees of excellence.
(Sources: http://gallery.sjsu.edu/silkroad/culture.htm; http://www.phm.gov.au/hsc/textiles/; http://www.abasayyoh.com/uzbekistan/uzbek/agency/travel/country/folk_art.html)