Published: May 15, 2007
Dazzling Central Asian textiles from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century will be on display in a new exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Sixty dynamic and intricately patterned embroideries from the nomadic and rural peoples living along the fabled Silk Road will be on view June 2⁁ugust 26, 2007.
The embroideries, ranging from highly abstracted wall hangings to boldly colored horse covers, reflect the diversity and aesthetic traditions of Central Asia as well as the identity and cultural values of their creators †the horse-breeding Lakai Uzbek, the agrarian Kungrat Uzbek and the settled peoples of Samarkand and Bukhara. The exhibition, organized by the MIA, and the accompanying catalog are a celebration of the gift of 97 embroideries to the museum from the collection of Jack A. and Aviva Robinson.
“We are thrilled to have on public view for the first time a portion of this generous gift from the Robinsons,” said William M. Griswold, director and president of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. “Only now, with the addition of these objects to our permanent collection, can the MIA’s holdings of Central Asian textiles be considered a major resource in this country and abroad.”
Merchants of Central Asia have long been famous for their luxury goods transported along the Silk Road, but little international exposure has been given to the stunning textiles created for local use, such as interior fabrics, dowry treasures and items defining social and cultural identity. The gift of the Jack A. and Aviva Robinson collection allows the MIA to present these seldom seen nomadic and rural embroideries, along with more opulent urban pieces, offering visitors a more comprehensive understanding and rare insight into the range and dynamism of the Uzbek style.
Created within the women’s sphere, Uzbek embroidery is honored within the entire social structure. And, as with many world cultures, the Uzbek people of Central Asia consider skillful embroidery an indicator of personal industry and refinement. Both the Kungrat and especially the Lakai people place particular emphasis on artistic accomplishment as well as technical excellence. These embroideries not only bring status to the tribe and honor to the household, but they also function as vehicles of cultural memory and continuity. Their colorful embroideries explore the balance between traditional parameters and the aesthetic freedom of individual artists.
Highlights of the exhibition include exceptional examples of ilgichs (small wall hangings) from both the Lakai and the Kungrat. The intense kinetic energy of the Lakai’s embroideries is manifest in several of the ilgichs, which feature vibrating, double-tailed scorpion imagery as well as designs that are powerfully abstract.
An appreciation for floral and spider motifs inspired the Kungrat to devise design elements that transform familiar representations of natural forms into enigmatic imagery. Both the Lakai and Kungrat Uzbek embroideries in this exhibition experiment with stitch variations, thread structure and fiber sources to create luminosity. They also play symmetry against asymmetry, to balance space within their compositions.
The embroiderer’s artistic compositions also represent the culture’s view on the relationship between humans and nature. In the urban embroideries, compositions of distinct floral patterns depict well-ordered gardens that suggest nature is improved by human control and for maintaining harmonious balance. The nomadic view was not one of dominating nature, but rather a relationship of nature as a partner. Abstract motifs reflect a dynamic yet integrated power. Seen together, these beautiful and vibrant textiles help reveal the history, anthropology and mythic tales of a relatively unknown culture.
A complementary exhibition, “Silk and More: Central Asian Textiles,” is currently on view in the MIA’s textile galleries through October 14. Celebrating the complexity and diversity of Central Asia’s rich aesthetic textile heritage, this exhibition includes complex silk ikats, elaborate suzani embroidery of urban areas, and tent bands and felts from the nomadic tradition. Textiles from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan to Turkmenistan, are on view, and range from works by individual artists who have helped maintain cultural traditions for millennia to embroideries by highly skilled urban artists, who often reflect influences from their many foreign interactions.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is at 2400 Third Avenue South. For information, 612-870-3131 or www.artsmia.org .
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