11 Dec 2021 – 10 Apr 2022
Breaking down preconceptions of traditional textiles and the ‘Silk Road’, this exhibition developed for The Dowse explores the artisan textile production in Central Asia that is being innovatively re-examined by contemporary artists. Including works by Faig Ahmed (Azerbaijan), Dilyara Kaipova (Uzbekistan) and Saule Dyussenbina (Kazakhstan), The Silk Web brings together pop culture, op art and neo-surrealism with soft furnishings and costume. Combining the past and the present, these works challenge the senses and inspire you to view the world in a new way.
Guest curated by Honolulu-based Leslee Michelsen of the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design, suggests that this exhibition explores how, “the old ‘Silk Road’ has morphed and adapted to form part of the 21st century global village – linked through the multiple strands of a silk web. Connected and networked, we can better appreciate the rich value of tradition, while also challenging our perceptions of the past, through these hyper-contemporary and digitally distorted artworks.”
Much has been made of the romanticised “Silk Road”, an erroneous shorthand for the vast network of trading routes winding from East Asia to the Mediterranean, both overland and via sea. The heart of the trade network - Central Asia and the Caucasus - is poorly understood and often dismissed as regions deemed peripheral in the modern world. Yet for millennia they were the beating heart of the age; pulsing with traders and materials from the majority of the known world. Ideas flowed freely, nourished by the cosmopolitan and polyglot surroundings. Silk and wool were tinted with dyes both local and exotic, and woven into pieces by artisans so valued that they were not infrequently kidnapped for their significant skills and expertise.
The Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan is home to the last of the abras (silk and cotton ikat) weavers, and the villages of Azerbaijan still support small-scale, home-based carpet weaving. Artists Ahmed and Kaipova work directly with these artisans, while Dyussenbina takes traditional motifs and interweaves them into works of social commentary and disquiet in digital and video formats as well as more traditional mark-making such as watercolour.
Michelsen suggests; “this ‘silk web’ formed by artists, like those featured in this exhibition, weaves together notions of tradition and modernity. Working with the motifs of their cultures and the skilled artisans of their workshops, Ahmed, Kaipova and Dyussenbina are creating colorful, critical artistic visions of the past, the present, and the future that have resonance no matter where you live in the world.”
This exhibition is presented in partnership with Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design; Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art; Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. The exhibition is also part of the Threads: Textile Festival within the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts.
Silk Web is part of The Dowse Art Museum’s 50th Anniversary programme. It continues our commitment to textile and fibre art that was initiated through projects such as Forms in Fibre (1977) Fabric and Form: Textile Art from Britain (1984) and Emma Fitts: From Pressure to Vibration—The Event of a Thread (2017)
Photo credit: Faig Ahmed, Liquid, 2014. Image courtesy of Faig Ahmed Studio