owner: abdulvahid karimov
co/rizom partner since 2/2020
when precious talent
is not enough to make a living -
extraordinary traditions are threatened
corners are cut. products become remnants
of faded glory meaningless souvenirs
disconnected from their legacy.
determined to stay true
to the ancient heritage of the region
& its craft a young potter
revives unique techniques & thrives
to produce once again authentic objects.
gilles masse social business development
nadja zerunian creative
matthias kaiser technical expert
karin pollack texts. pauline thurn und taxis photography. jamshid fayzuallev &
jack turner local support
Blue desert city. People have been making their way across the country for millennia as traders. One of the oldest trade routes is the Silk Road, which once connected the Mediterranean overland with Central and East Asia. For about 1,500 years (from 100 BC to the 14th century AD), camel caravans were used to pick up Chinese silk that was much sought-after in Europe and trade it for gold, silver and glass. On the Silk Road, however, it wasn’t only goods but also world views that were transported, here cultures mixed together for centuries. Central Asia was an important crossroads as trade routes from India, Persia and the Arab region also intersected in what is now Uzbekistan.Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand aren’t just monuments to this exchange.Still today the magical appeal of the oasis city of Bukhara can be felt. After months of deprivation during the journey in the form of brown-yellow, inhospitable landscapes, the traders would make a stop in this heavenly beautiful spot. Ornate mosques and madrassas adorned in blue tiles, with fountains tinkling in courtyards and people resting under mulberry trees, still hint at the magical effect it must have had on the traders back then. Today it’s tourists who are awed by the blue and turquoise tiled façades.
A significant heritage. Uzbekistan has always been a melting pot of cultures. This was reflected in the architecture of the buildings but also in everyday culture. Pottery was also traded on the Silk Road. Uzbekistan has a long tradition of ceramic craftsmanship in many parts of the country. The heart of it is the town of Rishton in the Fergana Valley, where blue glazed plates, finely decorated with symbols of life and fertility, are still produced today. But there are other centers for the craft, such as Gijduvan near Bukhara, where the pottery is coarser and earthier and strongly influenced by the colors of the desert.
Each region has its own tradition and you can recognize the origins of a plate from the sound they make. Pottery from the Fergana Valley sounds like a bell, while ceramics from Gijduvan make a duller sound. This depends on the local clay the ceramicists use. The plates and bowls are traditionally made on a wheel, then stacked on tripods and dried. Only then are they painted, glazed and fired. Originally only natural materials were used.
Essence of earth. The earthenware is made out of local raw materials. Each region has its own patterns and colors. Someone who knows and values the old traditions is ceramicist Abdulvahid Karimov who learned his craft at Tashkent College. His teacher there was Fasil Mirsaev, a Uighur pottery master from Fergana Valley who passed on an important message: “If you want to do something of your own, you first have to learn what came before you.” Since then Karimov has been collecting pottery from all over the country, studying its designs and color schemes and further developing them.
What is so special about the traditional ceramics that can be found around Bukhara? The special luster of these plates and bowls that comes about because the glaze is enriched with saltwort resin. Saltwort (Salsola soda) is a woody shrub that grows in the desert and contains both salt and potassium. It takes two huge carloads and a lot of time, because it’s only when the plant is slowly charred that it releases a resin (after many hours). This is then used in crystallized form as the glaze in pottery workshops.
In the course of history. Forming, painting, glazing and firing: every ceramic workshop in Uzbekistan has its own special way of doing things. For centuries the techniques and knowledge were handed down from generation to generation, but then the Soviets arrived and put an end to the craft. With the 1920s invasion many craft enterprises disappeared in Uzbekistan. As a result of collectivization there was no longer a place in society for small family businesses and no market for the goods. Ceramics, which for millennia had been a symbol of prosperity and wealth and used as dowry for brides at their weddings, all but disappeared. Luxury goods were undesirable in the new Soviet republic.
Over the decades, the construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad also brought in new, much cheaper everyday objects that satisfied people's needs. Today industrially-manufactured mottled blue plates can be seen on people’s tables almost everywhere in the country. During 74 years of Soviet rule, this ceramic craft almost disappeared from everyday culture. It’s only in recent years that an awareness of the old making traditions is returning.
Setting a counterpoint. Uzbekistan is a moderate Muslim country on the up, proud of its multi-ethnic roots and its history. In recent years, its capital Tashkent has developed into a vibrant centre in Central Asia. Magnificent new buildings have gone up between massive Soviet buildings, wide avenues contrast with the winding alleys of the marketplace, the Chorsu, where colorful tapestries (called suzani) in cotton, silk and other fabrics are on offer. Contrasts characterize daily life. Just like ceramic artist Abdulvahid Karimov, most Uzbeks speak both Uzbek as well as Persian-influenced Tadjik and Russian. Karimov wants to return to Bukhara and set up a ceramics workshop there. ‘I was born in Bukhara, every stone on its facades has influenced me.’ He wants to bring something new to the idea of the old Silk Road. Using the earth of his homeland, the artistry of his hands and the heritage of his forefathers in the heart of Central Asia.
Text: Karin Pollack
Photos: Pauline Thurn und Taxis