Blue Deer and Red Elephants, or Kitsch Trend in Uzbekistan Textiles
In the second half of XIX and early XX centuries the German word kitsch was used in reference to cheap and tasteless items of mass production, which imitated authentic works of art and were intended to produce superficial effect. Since 1960s and to this day kitsch has been quite common popular culture phenomenon. In Uzbekistan, this trend gradually went into textiles, with the only difference that these items have not yet become truly popular. The fact that some embroiderers or weavers ignore genuine traditions in composition and design results in their "conversion" into cheap fantasy-subject themes that go astray from the way that for centuries had been shown to us by true masters of traditional arts and crafts.
Along with painted plaster money boxes shaped as cats and dogs (a legacy of the early XX century), which sold well at local bazaars, the market began to offer small-size decorative embroideries (takiyapush) made in primitive "style" by craftswomen specifically for weddings, circumcision rituals (sunnat-toy) and other festivities. Using traditional stitches, such as basma, kanda-hayol, ilmak, yurma, etc., embroiderers produce items featuring couples surrounded by little hearts and hovering doves with flowers in their beaks (ill.1-2), which inevitably makes one want to compare them with old, hand-painted photo cards. .
Often a composition is centred around colourful peacocks with a bunch of grapes between them (ill. 3), or a galloping horse amidst large flowers (ill. 4), or an embroidery based on child's drawing (ill. 5). Along with familiar and recognizable animals and birds, embroiderers sometimes turn to mythological images (the winged horse Pegasus and the like) (ill. 6). This kind of items finds its own admirers. Some researchers may put it in the category of "na?ve" art as a current artistic process that re-conceives the exhausted "high art" forms using archaic means (1). Some authors believe that "for an archaistic individual, which, for the most part is a naive artist, art is a means of spiritual self-realization" (2). In the meantime, this category of "artists" relates to the visionaries and "red-neck philosophers" from under-urbanized culture
A look at individual kitsch items prompts an observation that the ancient creators who stood at the origin of art had higher standards for tastefulness than people of the XXI century who can benefit from the centuries old traditions, but, unfortunately, fail to take the advantage.
Once on the market, these loud and cheap products compete with highly artful items created by folk masters and contribute to the quick development of bad taste in customers.
Central composition of a suzane, known as kiyik tasvirli (literally, picturing deer) shows two mirror images of deer with girls on their backs (ill. 7). According to A. A. Khakimov, "this theme came into contemporary domestic items from mythological literature and goes back to the ancient Greek myth about goddess Artemis and Actaeon the hunter who saw her nude, bathing, for which he was punished by being turned into a deer (3, p. 237). According to H. Hursandov, Baysun resident and expert in local lore and art, "similar theme appeared in Baysun back in 1950s when two families from Ossetia moved to live here. There were carpets in their homes depicting the subject" (3, p. 236). However, despite the great effort and diligent work invested in the "subject" suzane, these items too go beyond "high and robust traditions and developed compositional principles, clear rules for combining shapes and colors, and beautiful skills of embroidering and drawing the designs, established as a result of work done by many generations of masters to ensure considerable artistic value of their products" (4, pp. 145-146).
At present stage, when "like Marco Polo and de Clavijo, we admire splendid Maverrannahr textiles, regarding them as special envoys of the Asian culture to the West, which influenced substantially the artistic tastes of the European elite and the very idea of the Europeans about Orient" (5, p. 58), the Uzbek textile masters should be closer to the "canonical" patterns of Central Asian fabrics. Meanwhile, there is always room for experiment. For example, the new half-silk (adras) fabrics can take full credit and deserve appreciation. Looking at the d?cor of one specimen, one may not immediately recognize the shape of an open hand with fingers held together (ill.10). This is the so-called protective charm (Arabic h?msa), which is used by both Jews and Muslims. Another name for this element is the hand of God or the hand of Fatima: for Muslims, besides protection against disease and infertility, it also represents the five pillars of Islam (prayer, fasting, faith, pilgrimage and charity). Rhythmically introduced into the dark green background of the fabric, the amulets of different size and orientation make the adras resemble the decor of traditional silks.
Quite a success is a fabric made in our time by Margilan weavers. Tulips flowers were chosen as a decorative basis (ill.11): on a silvery-beige background of silk material they are positioned in rhythmic rows of three in each - two reds and one yellow. The graphic shape of each flower resembles the shape of Arabic letters used to inscribe the name of Allah. In many Eastern countries tulip is associated with the name of God. The words "Allah", "tulip" (lal) and "crescent" (hilal) are spelled with the same Arabic characters and have the same numeric value (ill.12). Therefore, both the tulip and the crescent moon are consistently found in the Muslim art as they represent dedication to Allah. Repeatedly stylized tulip flowers decorated garments, arms, mosque walls, carpets and pottery, and the art of the XVI century Ottoman Empire was described as "tulip age" due to the great popularity of these flowers.
At the centre of another adras fabric (ill.13) is a cross-like design with horn-shaped elements known as muyiz (horn) at the ends, positioned in a diamond. Horn is one of the most common totem signs in the art of Central Asian peoples. "Symmetrical curls resembling horns of cattle, particularly those of a bull, symbolized fertility and virility that is able to protect the living and the dead from evil spirits" (6, p. 156). The combination of horns and a cross is one of the most ancient symbols in the arts and crafts of many nations, performing the function of double protection. Connected with "sustainable mythological notions of our ancestors about the structure of the universe, it reflects its horizontal model" (7, p. 102), as well as the magic associated with entering the house and other household buildings. According to A. K. Ambrose, rhombus with hooks at its upper and lower ends "is a symbol of a female element and fertility, and appeared in the art of many nations in the early stage of farming" (8, pp. 68-71).
Thus, in addition to its decorative function, the two-colour fabric with large elements in the centre also carries significant semantic load and can serve as a model of successful employment of ancient ornamental patterns in the design of modern textiles.
Oriental wisdom says that if the job is poor, no gilding can make it look beautiful. This applies to kitsch articles. It is thought that before these "masterpieces" became popular, novice masters should be assisted by talented designers and embroiderers who have the skill of using traditional patterns, as well as by art historians, museum professionals, and numerous organizations working to revive and promote the ancient crafts of Uzbek masters and who remember that "the heritage of the ancestors is the tree of wisdom".
1. Письман Л. Наивное искусство как феномен современной культуры. М., 2002.
2. Пелипенко А., Яковенко И. Культура как система. М., 1998.
3. Хакимов А. А. Традиционная вышивка Байсуна (к проблеме изучения локальных школ народного искусства Узбекистана) // История и традиционная культура Байсуна. Труды Байсунской экспедиции. Вып. 2. Ташкент, 2005.