by Dr. Elmira Gyul
Suzanis, the large-scale decorative handmade wall panels, are some of the most popular kind of Uzbeks and Tajiks embroideries. They hold a very special place in traditional Central Asian culture. Such kind of embroideries along with carpets decorate the living rooms of Central Asian inhabitants.
Admirers of traditional textiles value Suzanis for their vigorous coloring and original patterns, natural materials and refinement of embroidery skills.
Meanwhile, their true sense are often hidden from us. The important role of Suzanis are connected with the belief to the magic forces of their patterns.
Scholars have already marked the common protective value of suzani embroideries, such as their usage in ceremonial and cult practice as protective force. The patterns within the embroideries also carry the same protective meaning, as well as having their own unique historical interpretations. Each element is a part of the Universe, and the composition is a image of the World, with harmony and balance, sometimes unachievable in real life.
Suzanis of each regions or center have their own local features. Astral and solar symbols predominate in Tashkent and partly in Samarkand Suzanis. In Tashkent Suzanis are known as palak (heavens, arab.), oy-palak (moon heavens) or yulduz-palak (star heavens).
The images of heavenly stars are the ancient tradition, which roots go to the ancient strata of culture. The artisans considered these patterns provided the heaven protection. Step-by-step old cults were replaced by the new ones – as a result, astral symbols transformed into vegetative and floral symbols (Surkhandarya and Samarkand Suzanis, for example). Transformation of solar forms into vegetative symbols reflects the change of religious representations in a society and depreciation of old symbols.
Vegetative motives in Suzanis are a reflection of the everlasting nature. The content is connected with the ancient cult of fertility, which has preserved by centuries for example in Ferghana Valley Suzanis.
Some patterns are the results of the influence of creativity by professional artists, who worked in the courts of Muslim rulers and produced the so called court carpets. They created compositions with palmettes, flanked by leafs, blossoming flowers, rows of bunches of flowers etc.; these magnificent flowers were symbols of a Muslim paradise garden. Some Bukhara, Nurata and Shahrisabz Suzanis are a free imitation of popular carpet drawings (gul-buta, gul-dasta, chorshoh-u yakmoch – four branches and one moon – compositions).
Some motives, especially in rural embroideries, are related to nomad’s art. Carpets of semi nomadic tribes are the basic source of this influence. The “carpet” motives include kuchkorak and mujiz-nuska (ram’s horns) motives, the most ancient and most widespread in steppe art. Thereby, some part of patterns is a heritage of local ancient settled and nomadic cultures; the content of these patterns have been connected with Zoroastrism, Sun and totemic cults, and also a cult of nature revival. The other part was formed under the influence of Islamic aesthetics (some floral compositions, which can also be seen in other kinds of medieval textiles).
The meanings of former solar, Zoroastrian and totemic symbols have been forgotten. Instead craftswomen have considered these patterns simply “useful” and protective. As a result, many names of motives don’t reflect their original sense.
Nevertheless in each case Suzani drawings is the image of an ideal universe, unity of magic and beauty. Suzani embroidery is the unique phenomenon of late medieval culture of Central Asian’s cities and villages; it has kept the ancient archetypes and medieval symbols in the patterns and has reflected interaction of various historical and art traditions.
Dr. Elmira Gyul, Fine Arts Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan