Today, in the age of globalization and mass-production, hand made things are very valuable. How can we tell authentic hand-made pieces from those which were mass produced? Why do we often hear of the need for developing a system, which would give everyone the tools to distinguish between real traditional arts and crafts and commercial brands, which pose as such?
Uzbekistan Today correspondents interviewed the Head of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts of the Institute of Art History under the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Dr. Akbar Khakimov Abdullaevich.
-As the saying goes: all is not gold that glitters. Art-salons and other markets are selling mass produced pieces under the guise of "traditional art". An ordinary buyer simply does not know the difference.
Once in Ichan Kala, a sign that read: "Center for revival of traditional Khorezm embroidery" attracted my attention. I was surprised to see that sign, because in Khorezm traditional hand embroidery does not exist. The question came to mind: what are they reviving? what exactly are they doing? After speaking with the manager of the project, it became clear that they were embroidering pillowcases with patterns based on reproductions of books on medieval architecture of Herat. Herat is in Afghanistan and not Khoresm. So even the patterns, that they were using were not from Khoresm. I was trying to get to the bottom of this ridiculous sharade. It turned out that this workshop belonged to an Englishman, who didn’t know anything about traditional arts and crafts. The whole thing was not authentic. Off course, this phony business could get a bad reputation, if more people found out about it. However, it was generating jobs for a few women who worked there, which is good, because it was workng towards solving a problem of unemployment among garment workers.
There are many problems in all of the sectors of the traditional folk arts. Let’s talk about famous Rishtan ceramics. Rishtan ceramics is in demand on the market. The brand name was created thanks to the talent of true masters, who learned and perfected their skills from generation to generation. Because of the popularity of the brand more and more people in Rishtan are involved in ceramics business. However, a lot of them are producing ceramics, that are really poor in quality and can not be compared to the authentic Rishtan ceramics made by true masters. So does all of ceramics made in that city deserve the Rishtan name? Definitely not. There are just two or three craftsmen, with original technique. One of them is world famous master Sharafiddin Yusupov. Others work using modern materials and simplified teshniques. Their products can not be called traditional Rishtan ceramics, because they are just an immitation of the blue Ferghana ceramics.
What is happening today in the applied arts is a phenomenon, formed under the influence of many processes of modern life. People are trying to earn money, but in the process the original arts and crafts are lost.
There is another interesting case in Khoresm. During 1950s, the restoration of architectural monument of Tash-Hawley was underway. It was necessary to work on the restoration of architectural ceramics.
All the masters of Khorezm who worked with ceramics were summoned for the project. In most cases, they were the ones who worked with ceramic dishes. As a result, the style of the traditional Khorezm ceramics fundamentally changed in a negative direction. In place of juicy picturesque pattern of monumental motifs came graphical ornament, ie geometric interlacing lines which were characteristic of the architectural decoration, but not of the style of Khorezm ceramics.
We can now talk about the traditional and professional school of applied arts. There are designers who create new work, inspired by the traditional and modern technology and motives. They don’t seek only Uzbek traditional schools, they also take something from other cultures. Their work is also beautiful and tasteful.
For example, followers of Mukhit Rakhimov style in Tashkent, laid the foundation for a new direction in Uzbek ceramics. His son Akbar Rahimov and grandson Alisher Rakhimov are developing a new direction. Abduvakhid Karimov of Bukhara is developing professional ceramics, based on the interpretation of various schools of traditional ceramics of Uzbekistan. Other kinds of contemporary arts and crafts also take inspiration from traditional motifs. Of course, the activities of these representatives of the professional segment of applied arts have the right to subsistence and development.
However, there are a lot of amateur artists on the market. Their work does not have high taste and quality. Legally, all these masters have the right to work and sell their products. But, in this case, the question of identifying true works of traditional art becomes very pertinent. We need criterion, first and foremost, to preserve the age-old traditional schools. This requires certain decisions at the state level. We need more than just tax incentives for traditional arts and crafts to survive. By the way, all the artisans are exempt from taxes.
One of the most powerful solutions to this issue is a broad educational work through the media. We need to educate both the artisans and the society.
Most of the artisans do not know what they produce. They need to be educated, institutions for the promotion and certification of their products must be created. For example, in Margilan, in September 2015 the UNESCO Office in Uzbekistan in cooperation with local authorities and the Association "Hunarmand" held a festival of traditional textiles "Atlas Bayrami".
Those craftsman, who work with traditional technologies were awarded "Award of Excellence of UNESCO". As a result, artisans came to understand that products made with technology of mid-19th century is more valued. Fabrics produced by technology of mid-19th century, are in great demand not only in the country but also abroad. The realization of all this helped to remedy the situation. There should be more of these festivals and they must be carried out not only among the weavers. It is necessary to systematically organize seminars, devoted to the most pressing issues of arts and crafts.
It is important that quality of journalistic reports improves. I often see that your colleagues do not call things by their proper names. For example, I saw a report which focuses on the revival of traditional crafts. The video showed a girl engaged in amateur art of low quality. Such journalistics mistakes lead to shaping wrong perceptions of the public, regarding traditional arts.
Only when people begin to understand the value of authentic traditional arts and crafts, the demand for such arts will increase. Unfortunately, there is no authorized government body or NGO, which would deal with the problems of identification of the artistic quality of the works of traditional arts and crafts. The faster such institution is established, the more chances we have to preserve the authentic traditional arts. Those who work with the native traditional technologies, require more state support, as their work is most labour-intensive.
Another important issue that hinders creativity of hereditary masters, is the lack of public procurement committees for the selection of works in the museum. Therefore, our museum collections have no works of masters of traditional arts and crafts created in the Independence period. The problems in the field of traditional crafts are many, but the overall positive dynamics of development of national applied art, which is based on an effective and multilateral government support makes us feel optimistic.