Contemporary Textile Production in Uzbekistan
Lecture by
Christine Brown
November 11, 2007

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Christine Brown

Contemporary Textile Production in Uzbekistan

Hajji baba member, Christine Brown, returned from a 3-week trip around uzbekistan and the autonomous republic of karakalpakstan, where she saw and photographed contemporary textiles being produced, worn and sold. Through a combination of archival, and her own, photographs, she presents an overview of pre- and post-soviet era clothing styles in different regions of the country.

The history of textile production in the central asian territory now known as uzbekistan is as long and varied as its political history. The region was settled by two ethnically different types of people—sedentary farmers of indo-european origin who moved into the territory from the west and a variety of nomadic, turkic-speaking tribes who came from the north and east. These nomadic groups required clothing suitable for wearing on horseback, portable storage containers of all types and sizes to transport their goods, woven bands, felts and floor mats for their trellis tents, and saddle blankets and other trappings for their horses. They herded sheep, goats, camels and cattle from which they extracted the materials necessary to produce their textiles.

The sedentary groups ultimately established towns with bazaars where goods necessary to both groups could be traded. Many of these towns—Kokand, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva--later became important centers on the trade routes extending from china to the Italian city-states of Venice and Genoa. It was over these routes that silk was first introduced into central asia. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, these urban settlements flourished, and craftspeople, including weavers and embroiderers, were brought to these centers. Craft guilds and textile workshops, under the patronage of amir timur (tamerlane) and other timurid rulers, produced sumptuous fabrics of silk and velvet ikat, silk and gold thread embroidery, and cotton.

Production of luxury textiles ceased abruptly in the 19th century when the bolsheviks took control of the territory and textile production became mechanized and organized into state-run factories. Cotton yarn, synthetic dyes and designs catering to russian tastes dramatically changed the appearance of uzbek textiles.

Beginning in the 1960s and, increasingly, since the establishment of the independent republic of uzbekistan in 1991, there has been renewed interest in reviving small-scale production of textiles and other crafts. Today the country is awash in contemporary versions of suzani, ikat, gold thread embroidery, skullcaps, etc.

Christine has had a long and abiding interest in traditional cultures around the world. After obtaining a degree in anthropology from the university of iowa, she joined the peace corps and spent two years as a volunteer in what was then upper volta (later renamed burkina faso). She subsequently spent an additional ten years working for the u.s. agency for international development (usaid) in burkina faso, madagascar and zimbabwe on women in development, food for peace, and southern africa regional development projects, respectively. She moved to the washington, d.c. area in 1988 and has worked for consulting firms on usaid projects ever since. These projects have taken her on short-term assignments to multiple countries in africa, russia and, most recently, bangladesh. In addition to her work-related travel, she takes annual vacation trips to countries of interest to her in asia, the middle east, and central and south america. From 2002 to 2004 she co-curated three exhibitions of ethnic jewelry at the bead museum and served a 2-year term on its board of directors. She has an avid interest in ethnic jewelry and adornment, and has a small personal collection of jewelry from various cultures around the world.

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