Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
Beginning any research project necessitates casting a large net. The language used by an object's creators, scholars, collectors and critics must be analyzed with an eye to Bourdieu's observation that classifications can be used to study the classifiers and the classified. Through the analysis of an early twentieth-century men's silk and cotton ikat robe from the present-day Republic of Uzbekistan, this research draws together seemingly unrelated threads. Threads backward through time situate the robe as part of the Silk Road; other threads connect current media attention to the Uzbek cotton industry and labor practices. Ikat fabrics are currently mass-produced in Uzbekistan, while at the same time master weavers are depicted as reviving a lost tradition out of the ashes of post-Soviet Central Asia. Ikat weavers' collaboration with fashion designers lend credibility to Uzbek ikat techniques and aesthetics, while the Uzbek President's daughter had her 2011 New York Fashion Week show canceled after protests over Uzbekistan's human rights record. Uzbekistan was once a region of independent Silk Road cities. During the nineteenth century, it was conquered by the Russian Empire because of their cotton production, then became part of the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan's President is forging a strong national identity rooted in the region's history, but faces problems of post-colonial nation-building with overlapping borders of culture, religion, language and ethnicity. Using the ikat coat as a focal point for this study, the political and historical factors that influenced its creation and interpretation will situate this coat in its cultural context.