Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2004 (12.3)
Pages 78-79

Azerbaijan Today

Needlework and Textile Exhibition
by Gulnar Aydamirova

The 11th Annual National Contest dedicated to "Azerbaijan Today" was held in Baku on May 28-June 2, 2004. In the past, this competition was related to poster art and attracted some of Azerbaijan's most talented graphic artists, challenging them to identify the major social and cultural issues of the day. This year the decision was made to feature Textiles and Needlework. The event took place at the Artists' Union Exhibition Hall named after Vajiyya Samadova on Khagani Street.

Approximately 50 art works were exhibited, including quilts, felt, batik, kalaghayi (silk scarves), carpets both with and without pile, kilims, sumakh, carpets made of reeds and yarn, and various types of intricate needle work.

Since 1994, Baku Arts Center has organized this contest with the financial support from Unocal Khazar Ltd. Each year the event opens on Azerbaijan Republic Day-May 28th. Rafael Gulmammadli, Director of the Arts Center, analyzed the significance of this year's event.

First of all, it enabled professional folk artists, living in the countryside to participate, giving them a chance to come to the city and meet some of Baku's artists and see their own work in the context of what others are doing. Likewise, it gave Baku's professional artists a chance to meet artists who are involved in traditional genres and get to know more about traditional processes and motifs. Together this process encourages the preservation of the national cultural heritage.

Rafael advocates innovation but feels that there is great benefit if new works have their roots based in tradition. "Why don't we create a synthesis? he asks. "If Azerbaijani artists don't base their works on Azerbaijani traditions, then who will? We need to develop modern textile art in Azerbaijan. Reflecting the traditional spirit of a nation doesn't mean that you exactly copy works from the past. No. You have to understand them so deeply that you are able to create something of your own based upon that traditional spirit. That should be the goal."

Rafael went on to illustrate his point with music. "This synthesis," he said, "is evident in the work of Vagif Mustafazade and Jazz Mugham [see page 62]. If Vagif had not known and not based his jazz on the traditional modal scales of Azerbaijani mugham to go on to create mugham jazz, he would not be recognized today as a world-class jazzman. He would simply have been known as a great imitator of other great jazzmen."

In relationship to the Textiles Competition, a trip was organized to the countryside to identify traditional textile artists. The following regions were visited by members of the organizing committee and the panel of jurors: (1) Qazakh, Agstafa and Ganja, (2) Aghsu, Shamakhi, and Maraza, (3) Ismayilli, Gabala and Shaki, (4) Guba and Gusar regions, as well as (5) settlements outside of Baku.

The experts discovered that traditional textile art faces serious problems. Unfortunately, some of the traditional art forms are nearly extinct in Azerbaijan. Felt-making is one of them. Felt-making is characteristic of all Turkic nations and is one of the most ancient textile art forms. Many sheep breeders used to be involved in it. However, this art has almost died out. Only one artist could be found who does felt-Rauf Abdulhuseyn, who lives in Baku.




"Galamkar" is also on the wane. This art form resembles batik and involves drawing different ornamental symbols on cloth (batik is done on silk). Traditionally, galamkar was used for making tablecloths and scarfs. Kalaghayi is another similar art form like batik, but the ornaments are stamped on cloth, not drawn free hand.
In many locations, carpet weaving was found to be diminishing. For example, in the Gazakh and Ganja region, non-piled carpets-palaz kilims-were no longer being woven. In fact, even the weaving of piled carpets was rare and in need of considerable support for revitalization.

In Aghsu and Shamakhi, traditional colors are no longer being used. The traditional symbols are still being carried down from generation to generation, but the colors have changed because in remote locations it is so difficult to get wool that has been dyed with traditional natural colors. Consequently, bright, often gaudy-colored synthetics are being used.

This, in turn, effects the harmony of colors. Carpets are no longer being woven there very much nor in the Gabala and Ismayilli regions in the north central areas of the country.
Shaki, a charming, picturesque town, located in the foothills of the Caucasus, is traditionally known for its needlework. However, these days, neither the designs nor colors are traditional. Many types of piled carpet, such as chiyi, palaz, zili, sivama, and others have already died out.




According to Rafael, exhibitions such as this one serve to help preserve traditional values and customs in the art process. "Throughout history," he says, "nations have written their history on different materials including papyrus, stone, rice paper, wood or parchment. Azerbaijanis have written their ethnogeny and history on carpets and as such, they should not be allowed to disappear. The folk themselves have written their history in their carpets and passed them down from generation to generation. If traditional symbols are no longer incorporated into the design, it means that our history is being forgotten."

Unocal Khazar Ltd has been active in promoting the arts in Azerbaijan since they were established in 1994. Mike Barnes as Unocal Khazar's President was responsible for supporting this Textile and Needlework Exhibition.

Members of the Azerbaijan's Artists Union and the ANSA Architecture and Fine Arts Institute were also involved in the jury and organizing panel. Special thanks goes to Rahim Mammadov, Kubra Aliyeva, Anvar Garayev, Togrul Afandiyev and Jahangir Salimkhanov.

Azerbaijan International (12.3) Autumn 2004.
© Azerbaijan International 2004. All rights reserved.

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