UZBEKISTAN FIBER ARTS, 2005-2007
The program involved three exchanges:
Phase 1: A group of six American master crafters and museum experts traveled to Khiva and Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Phase 2: Seven master craftsmen and women, a museum manager, and the workshop founder from the Khiva Carpet and Suzanni Workshops came to New England for three weeks. They worked with American artisans, led workshops, and were the main feature at the Paradise City Arts Festival, which includes many of America's finest artists and craftspeople.
Phase 3: ITD's Program Director and two American fiber arts experts traveled to Tashkent, Bukhara and Khiva to provide continued technical support to Uzbek artisans and to conduct an impact evaluation among Uzbek program participants.
A number of obstacles presented themselves in this project. Getting family permission for the six Uzbek women selected to come to the US was a challenge that was met by including two well-known and trusted men from the silk workshop and community. Also, Operation Mercy, one of ITD's in-country partners on the project, was forced to close by government authorities in Uzbekistan, making it difficult, but not impossible, to carry out the Phase 3 trip.
The greatest impact of the program was an increase in confidence and skills among the Uzbeks who traveled to the US. Modrim and Farkhad, the Master Dyer and Master Weaver, respectively, made good use of the one-on-one training they received during Phase 2. Modrim's deepened understanding of the chemistry and methodology of the natural dye process was evident in the dramatically richer colors he achieved, as well as in his ability to vary the materials and processes he used.
As the de-facto manager of the workshop since Operation Mercy left, Modrim became more cost-conscious. During Phase 1, the workshop tried growing indigo and madder but found it impractical. Now Modrim focused on finding reliable vendors for fiber and raw dye materials, on collecting and drying seasonal dye materials that are local and easily accessible, and on using these materials more efficiently.
During the summer before the trip to the US, Master Weaver Farkhad had left the workshop to work in his family's rice fields, uncertain whether he would return. International travel, meeting other weavers, and learning new skills may have given Farkhad the confidence and commitment to take more initiative. The winter after the group returned, when the lack of heat made it impossible to use the workshop looms, Farkhad found a loom and continued weaving for the workshop in a location closer to home. While the Americans were in Khiva, Modrim asked Farkhad to expand his responsibilities and join him in managing the workshop.
Challenges that remained for the Khiva workshop after the grant was over included improved business management and access to raw materials for dyes, the difficulty of communicating with foreign buyers, and the impossibility of taking credit cards.
There is no question that the exchange had a profound impact on all the Uzbek participants. The artisans no longer felt intimidated by foreigners. They spoke of feeling comfortable with international visitors and tourists. They also were more willing to try new materials and designs. The Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton, MA made them more aware of Western tastes, and they now track what tourists buy more carefully, adjusting production to create more of the popular designs. It was clear that the young women, who received training by one of the most accomplished US weavers, had never been shown how to approach color as designers do. The educational opportunity changed the way they looked at their designs, gave them new terms and concepts to work with, and empowered them to make decisions for themselves and possibly for others in the workshop.
The project's greatest impact, perhaps, was the change in behavior and expansion in worldview of the Uzbek participants. The two men, due to circumstances in Khiva and also to their experience on the stateside program, were able to take on new management responsibilities in the workshops, as well as expand their technical knowledge and improve their technical skills. The change in the six women weavers and embroiderers was manifested by their heightened recognition of their skills and pride in their art, as well as increased comfort in communicating with foreign tourists.
COMMENTS FROM THE UZBEK PARTICIPANTS ON THE US-BASED PROGRAM:
“I expected Americans to be more formal and that we would have to be dressed in suits all the time. Instead, we could be comfortable and have more freedom than I expected. We were not constrained by formalities.”
“My objective was to learn as much as I could about weaving on a 4-harness loom, and I think I accomplished that. The nature here is different from what I expected – it is hard to tell whether places are natural or artificial. The program was great and substantive.”
“This was very different from going to Afghanistan. We had no difficulties with interpreters. Conditions were great. When I was traveling alone and didn't have an interpreter, people were very helpful, using hands and gestures to communicate. At one point in the airport I needed to get a cart; I put in $5 but the cart wouldn't come out, and then a girl showed me how.”
“I wondered how Paradise City would be, and worried about our demonstration loom after we lost a piece of it in transit and I had to file a report. I enjoyed the van trips and looking at the scenery – it does resemble paradise. Our region is so dry – no trees or flowers or vegetation in our city.”
“Here people take responsibility for their work – they take pride in doing a good job. Even the people cleaning the restrooms are dressed nicely and do a good job wiping the mirrors and cleaning the toilets. In our culture people stay on the job so the hours pass, working just to have the day go by, not to do a good job.”
“The apartments we lived in were great. At Snow Farm I did not expect to find older people learning crafts, regardless of their age; I was scared when I first saw them, but they surprised me. They made an effort to learn and do their best; it was not harder -- it was impressive. I expected to be teaching young girls; in our culture older women would not think of trying to learn something new. One of my students was excellent, and I was glad to see her learn so quickly. I also did not expect that the American embroiderers would show us their work and teach us their stitches.”
“For me everything about the trip was unexpected. I expected to live in a city and always be on straight highways. Here the roads are small and hilly, there are animals everywhere, older people work. When people see black people, the do not stare and point here.”
“I also expected to have young students at Snow Farm – like at the University of Massachusetts. Their interest was so strong that even though they were older and some didn't have much aptitude, they learnied carpet weaving. I did not spend time with American families and have no idea how they live. The air is great here, and the hospitality.”
“Everything turned out 100% better than I expected. My family was worried when they finally agreed to let me go. The people were so friendly; we exchanged knowledge of craftsmanship; I learned to use the computer. The program exceeded my expectations.”
COMMENTS FROM THE US PARTICIPANTS ON HOW THEY WILL USE WHAT THEY LEARNED FROM THE PROGRAM:
“I will certainly give a presentations to the RISD museum board on the exchange and the acquisitions they authorized. I will also suggest a special public lecture to happen before our current “Legacy of the Silk Road” exhibition comes down in June. I would like to suggest a project to our apparel design dept. based on the ideas brought forward in the fashion show in Bukhara.”
“My experience growing out indigo seed crop – with renewed enthusiasm, I intend to start 4 different kinds of indigo and get a madder bed going. I'm also excited to start some dye plant research. In my work I have been using chemical dyes. I may try to incorporate natural dyes as well. I'll take some of Michelle's natural dye classes in Seattle as well.”
“I plan to put together a power point presentation about the trip that I can share with friends and colleagues. I'm a walking advertisement for the arts and crafts of Uzbekistan. My current research is about textile designs on Ch?????? and I've found significant examples of Ikat work design used on plates in the State Museum in Samarkand. Also the mid-18th century examples found on French porcelain probably came from this part of Central Asia.”
“I am going to attempt pile weaving over the summer and am thinking about putting together a comprehensive rug weave class offering. I am going to ask Ute Bargemann's help in getting more background on Central Asian motifs. I am interested to know if motifs also woven by Navajo can be traced to designs drawn by trading post marketers based on Central Asian carpets. I might write about this. I also want to construct a loom like the one in Bukhara and use it at the Big E if I can this year instead of Navajo, and feature pictures of wool carpet weaving.”
“Broadening my teaching curriculum to include Central Asian culture and motifs into textile design projects; fully incorporating regional history, silk road connections, Islamic architecture and decoration, and stressing to students the importance of upholding traditions in textiles. Also, encouraging students to get more involved in researching and reviving pure textile traditions worldwide.”
“...I learned as much as I imparted. Specifically I found the dye method Madrim used overall were quite good: carefully working in the dye to each skein before entering the dye bath which keeps the dye color from spotting; Plant mixing with actual raw materials to achieve a color. He and I both learned from this as I adjusted the formula. I will do a slide presentation on this experience, showing samples and cultural relics.”