Oriental Style Traditions in the Design of Modern Textiles

For thousands of years there evolved the traditions of textile manufacturing in Oriental countries, specifically Uzbekistan, where major trading centres for a variety of cottage industry products, including textiles, had developed.

The Great Silk Road plays an important role in the history of textile. The main product transported along this route was Chinese silk. With time, other nations also learned how to produce silk. One of the major textile centres that evolved along the Great Silk Road was Bukhara. A well-known medieval author Mohammad Narshakhi (10th c.) stressed that no other city of Maverannahr could weave so wonderful fabrics as Bukhara did. Here they produced fabrics in white, red and green colours, which were exported as far as Byzantium and Egypt. Over time, these were replaced by a very popular fabric called zandanachi that was produced by masters from nearby villages Zandana and Vardana. Eventually, similar textiles were manufactured in other centres too and sold at the price of brocade.

Central Asian weaving traditions started to permeate the West, specifically Byzantium — the largest consumer and producer of textiles. The art of this country absorbed the influence of the Antique and the culture of Oriental people. Byzantine textiles feature plants in conventional presentation, predominantly in symmetrical layout and often in combination with images of animal and fabulous birds that symbolized the might and power of the nation.

Oriental Style Traditions in the Design of Modern Textiles

Oriental traditions influenced not only Byzantine, but also West-European medieval art. During the epoch of European Renaissance sketches for the fabric designs were created by the then renowned artists — Antonoi Polagliolo, Benozzo Gozzoni, Domenico Ghirlandaglio and others. Often they were inspired by exotic Oriental themes. Sometimes, without having original samples in front of them, they employed their imagination to create original pseudo-Oriental ornaments. At the same time, designed were made, which were based on the study of authentic Chinese, Indian, Bukharan and Khorezmian textiles (1).

On the verge of the 19th and 20th centuries, modern style became popular in West-European art, with a characteristic dominance of intricate vegetable ornament. The most favoured plants in the d?cor of that time were lily and iris with yielding stalks and leaves. Crawling herbs and flowers were «plaited» into architectural and sculptural forms, adorned crockery, garments and jewellery, disturbing the previously reigning «aesthetics of tranquillity» and «the harmony of calm». In the textile design one could notice the prevalence of sophisticated dynamics of lines. Changes in decor were so striking that they made many people resent the apparent effect of incompleteness and eagerness for motion.

Oriental Style Traditions in the Design of Modern Textiles

This gravitation towards explicit decorativeness appeared in modern style not without the influence of decorative-applied and fine art of Oriental countries, which at that time was becoming increasingly open to Europeans. Oriental motifs in West-European ornamental art, particularly in textile design, are a very complex and multifaceted phenomenon, the many influences and borrowings of which still remain undiscovered. Yet, many researchers believe that Oriental origin of motifs such as «tulip», «pomegranate», «the tree of life», «cucumbers» and «carnations» is indisputable.

A good example of interaction between the art of East and West is the mixture of European and Indian styles. The so-called «Oriental cucumber» that in the West was believed to have Indian origin and widely known from the design on Kashmir shawls and fabrics features in textile d?cor of many countries of the world. This motif, however, had long since been popular in the art of Central Asia too, which is exemplified by embroideries adorning skull-caps (bodom, kalampir), as well as decoration in gypsum carving and painting, jewellery and carpets.

Oriental Style Traditions in the Design of Modern Textiles

Oriental motifs have always been popular in the textile of Western countries. They were valued for their explicit decorativeness and thorough development, original morphogenesis, high degree of conventionality and generalization of form, as well as colourfulness. All these features have long since existed in ornamental compositions of Uzbek decorative and applied art too. These compositions were always dominated by vegetable motifs: fantastically transformed images of a blooming garden with its live and musical smoothness of the rhythm created by leaves, stems, flowers in full bloom, graceful buds, vines, maturing pomegranate fruits and almonds, as well as tulips, carnations, roses and other flowers with poetical names such as guli nomozshom — the night-time beauty, the flower of dusk or the sunset, or chamanda gul — meadow flowers, etc. (2).

Contemporary ornamental art of Uzbek textile designers has preserved many achievements of the art heritage of the past, specifically, compositions based on circles with pearls, which had once earned fame to Sogdian fabrics, and luxuriant palmettes positioned on a strait or slanted grid. The comparison of these motifs to ethnographic material has demonstrated that contemporary and ancient art evolves following the same canons, including similar motifs. Whereas formerly almond-shaped forms often enclosed the «tree of life» motif or stylized floral designs, nowadays new patterns are created showing grouped flowers or leaves in bodom (almond) shape. These can go perfectly well with main vegetable ornament, namely with naturally depicted floral motif.

Designers representing elite post-modernism on contemporary Great Silk Road interlace ancient patterns with their fantasy. Of particular interest are the items that interpret tradition not only from within, bit also «from the outside», connecting it, for example, with the elements of Western avant-garde or folklore motifs.

In our time, Fergana Valley has become one of the leading centres for textile manufacturing, with its well-developed and long-standing tradition of sericulture and silk-weaving. In reflection of this, when Fergana was made part of Russia, it was granted with an emblem featuring silkworm moth. Assorted silk-weaving workshops concentrated in the cities of Margilan and Khojent. Their product was shipped not only to Bukhara, but also to Kashgar, Russia, Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. In 1920s-1960s Bukhara and Fergana styles dominated in textiles manufactured by cottage-industry.

The technique of manufacturing traditional Uzbek textiles was not an easy one, and the process of ornamentation was even more complex. Striped and abr patterns prevailed; in striped fabrics the main decorative accent was placed on the rhythm of alternating stripes of different width and colour. Of a much greater decorative expressivity were abr fabrics, or ikat (under this name they are known in the West).

For the Europeans, these splendid textiles have become a kind of a symbol for Orient. When they discovered this remarkable art phenomenon, ikat fabrics have become even more popular among collectors and textile fans. Garments made of ikat entered museum collections not only in Russia, but also in Western Europe (3).

Traditional culture of Uzbekistan, which is being revived with the attainment of independence, is developing actively on the background of international character of the global culture. Therefore, traditional motifs, producing great influence upon the art of designers of different profiles, have been firmly entrenched in the world of today’s fashion. For instance, the current textile market, along with flat floral ornaments in liberty style typical for jacquard fabrics, also presents a large number of «Oriental cucumber» motifs and various exotic palmettes.

These days, the manufacturing of abr textiles is becoming profitable again. Like it was before, the whole dynasties engage in their manufacturing. Masters enrich traditional designs with new themes in keeping with modern requirements (5).

In early 1990s, Uzbekistan, as many other countries of Central Asia, was visited by quite a number of experts from different international organizations interested in developing local market. Among them were many highly skilled specialists sincerely willing to help domestic manufacturers access international market. Namely, a UK expert Philippa Watkins whose visits was organized in the framework of a grant programme of the British Council has become the best friend of all weavers in Margilan. Owing to her careful work on changing the textile design and the efforts of local specialists, textile mill «Yodgorlik» in Margilan has regained it s status of a centre for manufacturing traditional Uzbek hand-made fabrics (4). In recent years the demand for abr textiles of adras type has been growing. Increasingly popular are colour ranges going from white to creamy-yellow, purple, green or silver-grey shades (5).

A special power and attraction of textiles created by the people of Central Asia are in their harmonious colour compositions. The colour range of reds represented in Bukhara and Tashkent traditional embroideries has been especially popular since a very long time.

Presently, classic colour combination in textiles and embroideries of Uzbekistan are particularly popular in costumes of Western nations. Recently, one well-known European designer was quoted by media saying that «Orient has infiltrated our blood — the world has gone crazy about enchanting Oriental melody and smooth rhythms; Western people enjoy wearing garments made of multicoloured silk… Look at the modern-day trends in art — an increasing number of artists give preference to the synthesis ice-cold Western and burning-hot Eastern styles, to its novelty, freshness, particular gracefulness, exotics, unique colouring, vivid energy and soft appeal of its colours».

The synthesis of the best achievements of Oriental and Western cultures is a way towards further progress in art.

1. Соловьев В. Л., Болдырева М.Д. Ивановские ситцы. М., 1987.
2. Торебаев Б. П. Узбекские народные узоры в дизайне ткани// Материалы республиканской научно-практической конференции «Узбекистонда замонавий бадий таълим муаммолари». Ташкент, 2007.
3. Ремесленники Ферганской долины. Справочник. Бишкек, 2005.
4. Мусина Н. Эпоха времен// Об арт-менеджментe. Материалы семинара, доклады. Ташкент, 2007.
5. Торебаев Б. П. Дизайн ткани: актуальность проблемы и реальность перспективы// «Проблемы текстиля» Ташкент, 2006, №2.

Borijan Torebaev