HANDCRAFTED HOMEWARE FROM THE FORMER SILK ROAD

The Silk Road was a series of trade routes that stretched across Eurasia from China to the Levant for almost two thousand years. Originating at Xi’an in China the 4,000 mile road followed the Great Wall of China, climbed the Pamir Mountains, crossed present day Afghanistan and Central Asia and went on to the Levant. From there merchandise was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea.

As well as luxuries such as silk and spices, many important scientific and technological innovations found their way to the West along the Silk Road, including gunpowder, the magnetic compass, mathematics and the printing press.

We currently work with artisans in two countries on the former Silk Road, in seven cities, towns and villages.

THE KYRGYZ REPUBLIC

The Kyrgyz Republic (more commonly known as Kyrgyzstan) is a mountainous country in the heart of Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China.

Part of the Soviet Union until 1991, the Kyrgyz are proud of their culture and traditions and have experienced the biggest revival of handicrafts in Central Asia since achieving independence. Between 70 to 90% of artisans in Kyrgyzstan are women.

One of the largest problems facing the country is unemployment, and so helping women to access a wider market for their craft plays a vital role in poverty alleviation and economic independence.

Crafting with felt is an deeply ingrained part of nomadic Kyrgyz culture, but despite the revival of these techniques they are still under threat due to low interest in the younger population and difficulties accessing wider markets.

UZBEKISTAN

The Uzbek people, found in present day Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, have preserved some of the world’s most skilled crafts through centuries of turbulence.

Once part of the Persian Samanid and later Timurid empires, the region was conquered in the early 16th century by nomads who spoke an Eastern Turkic language, and then by the Tsarist Russia, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union.┬áThe cities of Bukhara and Samarkand were key Silk Road trading centres, and Samarkand was at the heart of the Timurid empire – the crafts that developed there had many influences, and played a significant role in trading along the Silk Road.

Unemployment is high in Uzbekistan, and restrictions, a strong government and corruption mean small businesses are difficult to run. Enabling artisans in the country to access an overseas market makes them less dependent on tourists and seasonal employment.

During the Soviet Union crafts and art in Uzbekistan were centralised and individual entrepreneurship and creativity was discouraged. Until independence, labour intensive centuries old techniques were only practiced in secret, and large factories were opened producing standardised ceramics and carpets using synthetic dyes and materials. Since 1991 small numbers of artisans have been responsible for resurrecting techniques and traditions of craftsmanship that were nearly lost.