Turn Left at the Camel
Khiva, Uzbekistan, April 30, 2006 - A small, straggling group of jet-lagged but excited Americans follows a young Norwegian woman out the door of a small inn and through a sand-colored-stucco and mud-brick townscape. They pass the high battlements of the Khan's Palace museum, cross a wide town square, and climb a short flight of steps to a dusty street lined with sand pits and scrawny trees on one side and small shops filled with items for the tourist trade on the other. Rounding the first sand pit, one of the visitors calls out - "Hey, a landmark! We turn left at the camel." Katya, as the camel was called, became the focal point for all directions given over the next week.
The members of this group were six textile specialists visiting Uzbekistan for two weeks, hosted by the Institute for Training and Development (Amherst, Massachusetts) and funded by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The participants spent a week in the historic old city of Khiva - a World Heritage Site - working with, assisting, and learning from the artisans employed by two textile studios, the Silk Carpet Workshop and the Suzanni (embroidery) Center. These establishments are being developed by UNESCO and a Swedish organization, Operation Mercy, as sustainable craft businesses. The six visitors then passed a second week traveling from Khiva to Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, via the oasis towns of Bukhara and Samarkand along the fabled Silk Road, for millennia the main overland trade route between the Mediterranean and China.
Thanks to funds voted by The RISD Museum's Fine Arts Committee, Curator Madelyn Shaw used this opportunity to acquire a number of contemporary textiles created in traditional suzanni and ikat (tiedyed threads) techniques for the Museum's collection. This exhibition presents a "snapshot" of just a few of today's Uzbek textile arts, enhanced by photographs taken by the group members to document their encounters with the Khiva workshops and with the art and architecture of the Silk Road.