Suzani History | Story of handcrafted Suzani embroidery
A HISTORY OF SUZANIS
Please read this very interesting article by Manina Bauman * Cape Town, South Africa
Suzani embroidery is a unique traditional craft and art, and is still being practiced by women living in Central Asia, as it has been through the ages. The very root of it is believed to be in the Fergana Valley that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The term is derived from the Persian word for needlework, "suzanikari".
Suzani tells the enduring story of mothers' love for their daughters and the beautiful handcrafted dowry pieces that they lovingly and laboriously created for their wedding day to bring happiness, protection and prosperity into their married life. Various dowry pieces in silk or cotton formed part of the wedding ceremony as canopies and head dresses, before they became important adornments in the wedding chamber and after in the new home. When a little girl was old enough, she would be taught the art and secrets of embroidery and help to create her own dowry pieces. She would present them to her groom on their wedding day. Beautiful embroidery work was very highly esteemed, and could earn women great respect in their community.
The work, energy, creativity and time that goes into creating Suzani Embroidery make them a truly "Living Art" , a "Herstory" as opposed to being part of "History".
Suzanis are known for their strong colours, design and original exotic patterns, and wonderful embroidery skill. But their true sense and purpose is almost lost and hidden from us today. The important role of Suzanis through the ages was connected to the belief that magic forces were embroidered lovingly into their patterns by mothers and grandmothers. Patterns and motives carried talismanic, protective and well wishing embroidered messages.
Into each Suzani was embroidered a heavenly garden or an eden, symbolic of an undamaged world and earthly paradise that was wished upon the young bride. The young girl and her mother's dreams for her life ahead was lovingly captured by embroidering these magical cloths together as she grew up.
The magnificent floral designs are symbols from an Islamic paradise garden. From the ancient Persian concept of the Garden of Eden with its Tree of Life, as depicted in so many Persian silk carpets. The design elements as seen in the garden of the great Taj Mahal is a perfect example and model for many Suzanis.
Suzani drawing came to represent the image of an ideal universe with the unity of magic and beauty and everlasting beautiful nature. Each and every motive and symbol used in Suzanikari is there to bring joy, fertility, long life, prosperity, fruitfulness, good health, hospitality etc, or alternatively to keep the evil eye at bay and to ward off all evil from the home.
In every authentic Suzani, you will find a small deliberate fault or unfinished area, as a reminder that man is not without mistakes.
Traditionally grandmothers passed on her family's embroidery secrets and own Suzani designs to a younger woman in her family before she died. Alternatively it was believed she would share her magical talents in a dream if it happened that she died too suddenly.
Special rituals and festivals were regularly held in honor of past revered embroiderers.
Suzanis of each region do have their own local very distinctive features, but many designs and motives have become intermingled and merged between areas, often making it quite difficult to identify exactly where some Suzanis originate from.
Often the meanings of the more ancient inherited symbols may have been lost and forgotten, but are still being used as decorative elements in contemporary Suzani design, and still they can carry a powerful message to those who understand them.
Astral and solar symbols predominate in Tashkent and in Samarkand Suzanis, and have their roots in the ancient way of life of the nomadic and settled cultures of this area. The artisans believed that using these astral patterns provided the heaven's protection, and are connected with Zoroastrianism, the Sun cult and the ancient Fertility cult.
Vintage rural embroideries are related to the art of the nomads and carpet designs from the ancient steppe art. As old cults and religions were replaced by new ones, astral symbols transformed into vegetative and floral symbols, as seen in Surkhandarya Suzanis. Some of the designs in Bukhara, Nurata and Shahrisabz Suzanis were influenced by the professional artists and carpet designers, who worked in the courts of the Muslim rulers. They created compositions with palmettes and meandering leaves, and blossoming branches of leaves and flowers with central moon or star motives.
With the advance of the Industrial Revolution, machine made textiles and then Soviet rule, when Suzanis were expected to reflect Soviet symbols instead of centuries old ethnic patterns, this ancient craft very nearly became extinct.
But since Uzbekistan's independence in the 90's, Suzani is making a brave and very proud comeback.
Young girls again are being taught and learning to embroider, but there are huge threats to its survival, because machine made and synthetic copies of Suzani are sold at cheap prices to tourists, and this makes the true hand embroidered pieces seem too "expensive" and then forgotten. The ever rising cost of raw silk and cotton also has a huge impact on the survival of this noble craft.