Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Traditional Arts and Crafts

Kyrgyz traditional handicrafts reflect ancient traditions and nomadic lifestyle of the people, and demonstrate a practicality arising out of necessity. For example, musical instruments and other implements were fashioned out of objects found naturally in the environment – were easily crafted and transported as the family from pasture to pasture with their flocks of sheep. 
The people lived a subsistence existence – each family group would make items to satisfy their own needs.  Occasionally goods were exchanged as presents or barter and sometimes a master, skilled in a particular craft, would emerge whose work was highly prized. Later, goods were also sold in markets and even made to specific orders.
Most of the materials used were natural by-products of the agricultural lifestyle, (wool, leather, horn) or found in the environment, (wood, chiy, plants – roots and leaves for dyes). In particular, felt (made from sheep’s wool or – for the very rich – from camel hair) plays a large role in Kyrgyz crafts. Felt carpets, (called Shyrdaks and Ala Kiyiz), are particularly common.   Shyrdaks uses shaped pieces of coloured felt sewn together to create the patterns that have a vibrate symmetry.  In the case of Ala Kiyiz the patters are created as the felt is being made from the raw wool.  It is possible to see demonstrations and participate in master classes of various national crafts, such as how Shyrdaks and Ala Kiyiz are made, at different places around Kyrgyzstan.
Chiy is a distinctive form of traditional decorative art.  Chiy is a long stemmed form of marsh grass, with is decorated by winding coloured threads around each single stem before they are tied together to reveal a striking pattern.
Other traditional crafts, such as Kurak and Saima, have more recognisable equivalents around the world.  Kurak is a form of patchwork in which scrap material or material from old garments are used to create something new.  Saima is a form of embroidery and is found mainly in the Tush Kiyiz which were, and are, used as wall hangings.
Some materials (silver, coral, and turquoise) would have been the province of specialist craftsmen and so would have to have been specially purchased in markets.
Most of the work was done manually, using rather primitive tools … it was time consuming and so production levels were low – but it was a “cottage industry” providing for the domestic needs of the people themselves, so this is understandable. In more recent years, there has arisen the demand for goods by Kyrgyz who no longer live in the countryside, but in high-rise apartment blocks in the cities – and for souvenirs for tourists – so there are now craftsmen, and collectives, that specialize in making goods specifically for sale on the open market. Most of the best quality workmanship is still handmade – although it is possible to find articles manufactured by a more mechanized, industrial method.
The Kyrgyz people like bright, vibrant colours and this is often reflected in their handicrafts. At first, natural colours – such as those produced by dyes extracted from plant roots and leaves produced a limited range of colours, but the introduction of chemical dyes led to increase in the range and vibrancy of colour schemes. It is possible to find colours to suit almost any colour scheme.
Designs also tended to be simple, practical and reflect the objects found in the natural environment. . Typical shapes are often based on large various curls, the "muyuz"; with forks and sprouts - the "karga tyrmak" and "ala bakan"; cross-shaped figures – "tort muyuz"; or ovals or diamonds – "tabak oyuu".
Although there are many traditional designs, elements, motifs on which craftsmen can call upon and utilize – but the nomadic Kyrgyz also have a love for freedom of expression, and both formalized style and free expression is reflected in the styles of craftwork. Shyrdaks, for example may be formal – with regular shapes and/or symmetry – whereas Ala Kiyiz are much more individualistic. This individualism can be seen in many of the items that are available as souvenirs and in the work of Kyrgyz artists such as painters and sculptors.
 Traditional crafts play an important role in the daily life and economy of Modern Kyrgyzstan employing, either formally or as self-employed, part-time, home workers, many people.  Although many people have suffered hardship in the transition from the central command economy of the former Soviet Union to a Free Market Economy, but the sector is growing from strength to strength and offers great potential for enriching both financially and culturally (in terms of preserving traditional crafts and lifestyles) those involved.  


Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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