Uzbek artist Dilyara Kaipova’s eye-catching textile designs, which draw on characters from comics and films, such as Captain America, Batman and Darth Vader, are helping to give Uzbekistan's fabric dyeing and weaving traditions a pop-culture twist, thrusting them into the world of modern art.
Using the medium of ikat – known as abr in Uzbek, from the Persian word for cloud – Kaipova is reinterpreting this traditional dyeing and weaving process by incorporating well-known images from Western icons like Mickey Mouse and Edvard Munch’s The Scream into the finished fabrics.
Kaipova worked as a theater designer and as a puppet maker in Tashkent, Uzbekistan before she got interested in abr a few years ago. She chose to combine abr fabrics with these ubiquitous, globalized images as a comment on how artists in Uzbekistan often just copy Western styles, while ignoring their own country’s rich craft heritage of embroidery, weaving and pottery, among others.
Working in collaboration with the skilled designers who apply the pattern to the warp, known as arbandchi in Uzbek, Kaipova spent months in Margilan, the main center of the weaving industry in modern-day Uzbekistan, to learn how to get her ideas on to the yarn.
The process involved a lot of trial and error, as well as the practical limitations of this old technology which meant that the designs needed to be kept simple, but eventually she had a number of designs she was happy with.
“My first project was the American one [Captain America] and then Darth Vader, and I chose whatever worked,” Kaipova told Eurasianet. “There was a chance that it wouldn't work out at all, so I thought I'd take a logotype that was very simple and also recognizable to people.”
The process is a laborious one that uses natural dyes and centuries-old technology. The yarn is tied so that only the exposed parts will take the necessary color. After drying, the yarn is then woven into the finished fabric. This results in about 220-230 meters of cloth which Kaipova then makes into garments such as the chapan, the silk or cotton gown still commonly worn in Central Asia, scarves and cushion covers.
Some of the finished articles can be viewed in Kazakhstan at the moment with Kaipova's playful designs currently on display in Almaty’s Aspan Gallery as part of an exhibition called Ornamentum that runs until April 12.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.