Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Central Asian women have long been a point of fascination, written and sung about by others. Exoticized as an oriental “other,” there are many legends but only few historic details known, and then recorded not by themselves but by foreign men. A number of excellent books on women in Uzbekistan under the Soviet Union, and on Uzbek craft and culture in general have been published but most authors conclude there simply is not enough evidence to say anything more about Uzbek women from their own perspective before Soviet times. In Embroidering Paradise: Suzanis as a Place of Creative Agency and Acculturation for Uzbek Women in 19th Century Bukhara, I argue that it is possible to learn to read the embroidered dowry textiles known as suzanis, and therefore to learn quite a lot about both the daily lives, and wishes, dreams and fears of Uzbek women before the Soviet period. To do this I use a way of looking at textiles as rhetoric, and analyzing the motifs, materials, and visual layout as rhetorical devices explored by Dr. Maureen Daly Goggin in her study of the Elizabeth Parker sampler. I am using as a case study a suzani in the collection of the Shangri-La Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures in Honolulu. This suzani dates from late 19th century Bukhara, and it has been assumed that so far out of context, without the written or spoken words of the makers, we can no little more. I believe that this technique of analysis will allow us to learn something about the specifically local histories, in this case how Uzbek women in the years leading up to the Soviet Union viewed themselves and their society, which in turn is useful globally as we strive to better understand and relate to each other.