In the picture to the right, we see beautiful Central Asian fabrics with an abr (ikat) pattern that convey the mystical spirit of the Middle Ages, the atmosphere of the Oriental fairy tale. But wait … in the abstract figures, there appears suddenly the image of a “stranger,” designed for a completely different, mass-marketing consumer audience—the Ghostface from the horror film, The Scream!
This is a design by Uzbek artist Dilyara Kaipova, who uses traditional patterns to construct completely different content—images of the serial characters or superheroes of European and American pop culture who are the most popular symbols of consumer society, with its democratic tastes. Dilya uses the typical techniques of post-modernism, combining artifact images borrowed from different eras, regions, and cultures. The artist’s vision helps to mix East and West, elitism and the masses, high art and comics, ethnic traditions and cosmopolitanism, the sacred and profane.
The combination of seemingly alien components brings harmony to the parties; the archaic and ultramodern coexist with surprising ease. Ikat becomes clear, while the comic book characters stand out in high art.
Dilya Kaipova’s works created a kind of furor in the art space of Tashkent and were exhibited near and far, at home and abroad.
In this interview, she reflects on her art, inspiration, and challenges.
Born in Tashkent in 1967, Dilyara graduated from the Department of Decoration of the Republican Art College, named after Pavel Benkov, in 1990. From 1998 to 2012, she worked at the State Theatre of Musical Drama (named after Mukimi) as a stage director and at the educational theatre of the State Institute of Culture and Art as a master of puppet making. Between 2012–14, Dilyara collaborated with regional puppet theaters. She was engaged in easel graphics. In recent years, Dilyara has been carrying out textile projects based on traditional Uzbek textiles.
What was the starting point for the idea to combine the ikat with the mass-media images? What was the first impulse?
It was quite late when I found out that the artist’s medium could be textiles, but I always had the idea of playing around the ornament, even as a child. I was very attracted to the drawings of carpets, national fabrics, but not just attracted—I always wanted to participate in the drawings. And suddenly it became possible to implement these ideas in the material.
I started with recognizable architectural monuments, and the first one was a sketch of the Eiffel Tower—its elongated proportions and openwork fit visually, in my view, in the style of abr patterns. But the result did not seem expressive enough to me.
Then I started to read some articles about globalization and its influence on identity … At the same time, I saw Mickey and Batman every day on t-shirts or other clothes that people were wearing, so I decided to make sketches of superheroes (these series also included the image of “The Scream”). Combined, they were my first project, Captian Ikat, which I displayed at the International Contemporary Art Exhibition 2016 (Tashkent).
Now I have 12 fabrics that I consider to be successful, and I have a lot of defective fabrics on which the drawing, in my opinion, is not expressive enough. These mistakes are related to both technological limitations and, of course, my own mistakes.
People attempted to modernize the ornamental legacy of abr cloths throughout the 20th century. For example, in Soviet times, traditional fabrics were decorated with Soviet symbols—images of satellites, the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower… In the early 2000s, there appeared Islamic symbols—in particular, the palm of Fatima. You turned to the labels of Western mass culture, instead.
Textiles always carry information about time. It is not always a drawing: it may be some new fiber or dye, or the function of the fabric itself, but there is almost always this timestamp. In this case, it’s not that I turned to the topic of “Western” superheroes. The problem is that we finally have the opportunity to talk about our identity, our specific culture, but what do we see around us? Everywhere we see the conventional “Mickey Mouse,” a symbol of globalization, and fakes of Gucci and other Western labels on mass-produced clothes. And we do not appreciate our own Uzbek textiles of the 19th century, while America is the birthplace of this very Mickey, and also a place where the best collections of Uzbek heritage are stored.
I was motivated by the desire to turn traditional Uzbek textiles into a modern art object, to invite them to the world of contemporary art and thus raise questions of identity.
We live in a country with the richest tradition of crafts—embroidery, printing, weaving, ceramics and much more … But I have always wondered why this rich heritage is not of interest to our artists, who often just copy the Western styles.
What problems do you have to deal with in the course of your work?
The most painful question for me in my “ikat” searches is that there are practically no textiles of the 19th century in our museums —the classics, the best samples of the Uzbek abr weaving, are very rare. [Several fragments of abr silk from the end of the 19th century are in the exposition of the State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan, and several fragments of the 20th century are in the exposition of the State Museum of Applied Art of Uzbekistan. – editor] But Uzbekistan was and still is one of the largest producers of abr silk. A lot of things were exported during the period when our territories were part of the Russian Empire, mainly as a result of trade or diplomatic gifts. In the early 1990s, which was the time of the deepest crisis, a lot was also exported. Traditional textiles became the object of hunting by collectors and dealers; they were bought for nothing and resold on the international antique market. By hook or by crook almost everything was taken out. In this case, I am also saddened by the moral side of the issue.
Our contemporaries, who are masters of abr fabrics, also do not have access to the best samples. The examples that are available on the Internet [do] not give a full picture and are not completely clear, and the size of photo-images is often very small. Meanwhile, the classical samples of the 19th century can serve as a kind of high taste tuning fork for masters. Our abr cloths are first of all art, but the problems of survival and market affect them in the most harmful way. Mass production can destroy the most important thing—the originality and uniqueness of this craft.
Finally, there are very few publications devoted to traditional Uzbek fabrics. After Sayyora Makhkamova’s book “Uzbek Abr Fabrics” (1963), there was not a single study of drawings or the changes taking place in them. Nor was there any reissue of this wonderful book or the appearance of an electronic version.
It is not a secret that contemporary art is designed to provoke épatage feelings … Artists try to surprise the viewer in the first place in order to induce them to pay more attention to their work. To invent something new is not so easy. You have managed it. You raise the issue of images imposed by advertising, replacing the real art. Was provocation initially an incentive in your work? Or was it purely artistic priorities, the search for new means of self-expression?
I don’t consider my work a provocation, although I did have a desire to “touch the sacred cow.” At the same time, I was sure it would only happen once (one project). But now I can’t stop … and it’s not just my feelings. Even my weaving partners are inspired by the process of work—they are always interested to see what happens after dyeing the base and working on the weaving machine.
There’s a provocative drawing … one. It’s been there for a year and I’m not sure if I’ll ever show it. Not because I’m afraid or there are doubts about whether it’s necessary [it plays around the theme of fertility]. But in general, I am more limited not by the issues of “permissibility–prohibition,” but by the numerous technical conditions arising in the process of using reserve dyeing, as well as by financial problems. My funds are very limited. For example, silk is not available to me, although a more detailed and accurate pattern can be displayed on silk. I can only work with cotton fabrics, and this is limiting.
I’m sure the readers will be interested to know how the process of creating a work of art takes place from the birth of an idea to its realization.
I’m drawing a full-size sketch on paper. Thus, already at this stage, I see quite clearly the problems that can arise for masters when dyeing the warp threads. And even the weavers themselves do not have any questions about the size of the drawing. Then I go to Margilan to discuss the drawing and dyes with an abrbandachi [the drawer of the pattern on the warp threads] and with the master with whom I work all the time. I explain what is important for me in this or that sketch and what they can do as they consider necessary—in general, all the technical questions. The minimum size of the future fabric is 200 meters—a smaller size will be more technically difficult to make. It is also important to have a number of warp yarns, which are divided into separate bundles for dyeing. If there are not enough threads in the bundle and it is not tight enough when tied, the paint can get under the reserve layer. In general, 250 meters of warp threads are prepared for dyeing. In the result, we get 220–230 meters of finished fabric.
It takes from one to three months, depending on the season. In the summer, the work is faster, as it is possible to do without electric dryers. Drying is necessary because the production process involves separately dyeing the warp threads in different colors.
You must be interested in the public’s reaction to your work. What is it like? Where does the most interest come from?
There is interest everywhere, especially abroad, where I have to go for exhibitions. We have much less interest in Uzbekistan. It is difficult for me to say why.
Maybe this attitude can be explained psychologically: people accustomed to the tradition are not always interested in innovations, especially in social life. It’s like a love of old hits and indifference towards young performers. And abroad your experiments are still perceived through the time-consecrated tradition of abr weaving, in line with it, and they become a continuation of ancient history. Having put aside the social discourse, they simply admire it as a funny mix of cultures.
Maybe you’re right. But I want to emphasize that at home, in Uzbekistan, where national fabrics are treated with huge piety, I have never encountered rejection of my experience with traditional ikat. People are always very loyal, and they react in a kind way.
The first Tashkent exhibition in 2016, where the benefit exposition of your work took place, was a while ago. Where else have you managed to participate in exhibitions?
Mainly in CIS countries. I have received invitations from Europe, but I, unfortunately, cannot get a Schengen visa. As a result, I decided to send the works and not go myself.
I myself had the opportunity to observe the reaction of the audience to the photo of your works. The reaction was extremely enthusiastic. But the very first indicator of recognition is the appearance of imitators. How do you feel about plagiarized works, which, as we all know, have already appeared on sales sites? You are copied and faked, and others try to sell these fabrics as their own.
I treat [it] calmly, because I know very well how difficult it is to sell these fabrics—they are not traditional drawings, there is almost no demand in the market. I think that “plagiarists” have already understood this! I sell some garments to at least partially recoup the costs, but it is very difficult. My customers are mostly people of art.
Moreover, I would like to emphasize that I do not have sponsors; I handle the costs myself. Colleagues and friends, who buy my things and help to popularize my work, are very helpful.