something quite magical transpired this week in bishkek, and i am feeling both thrilled and touched to have been a part of it. in partnership with our friend dinara chochunbaeva, we organized and hosted an extended shyrdak pattern + storytelling workshop. for the workshop, we brought artisans and historians from all corners of kyrgyzstan together to engage in two days of activities structured around shared knowledge, collaboration + creativity.
dinara best explains the current status of storytelling as it relates to the tradition of shyrdak making - and our shared motivation behind organizing the workshop - in a recent interview with hand/eye magazine (excerpted below):
…Ornamental motifs were (and are) the main media of artistic expression by Kyrgyz masters. Ornamental forms have their roots in ancient times and reflect their creators’ aesthetic perception of their natural and social environments, as well as their cosmology. Many ornamental motifs had a sacred and protective function. In the past, Kyrgyz ornaments also had an informational, storytelling purpose.
Nowadays, though, there are very few artisans who can “read” our ornaments. Our unique traditional knowledge, which has been orally transferred from generation to generation for centuries and was never recorded, is on the verge of being lost. Artisans seldom know and use complete traditional craft techniques, and even less often know the rich range of historic Kyrgyz motifs. Most of them use synthetic raw materials, and copy from one another the ornamental motifs without understanding their meaning.
Custodians of our old ways (usually the eldest among us) can still be found in our more traditional communities. But as these elders gradually leave this world, they take with them their precious experience and knowledge, which is not recorded anywhere and not much in demand by modern society. Often our elders say they have no one to whom they can transfer their knowledge. Our most traditional ways have almost never been the subject of serious study. Now is the time to collect and record what is left for future generations of Kyrgyz people...
(for a full reading of the interview, please visit: hand/eye magazine)
i find the storytelling aspect of shyrdak to be nothing short of entrancing. the goal of the workshop was to begin to articulate the richly layered meanings behind the designs we are working on in conjunction with our kyrgyz artisan partners as we define a catalog of patterns + sizes for our special collections.
the days spent were incredibly fruitful. the participants discussed traditional use of colors/color combinations and the associated symbolism, ‘translated’ our current collection of patterns, and created an entirely new collection of patterns especially for us, with a focus on themes such as prosperity, harmony with the environment, house warming, wedding + new baby…
in the coming weeks, we’ll have the stories - which are currently being translated from kyrgyz into english - and patterns to share. in the meantime, a few pictures from the workshop are attached below.
sending happy, warm new years wishes to all.