Here at Steppe we have a great passion for the Soviet architecture of the Central Asian states. As an expression of the progress of thought, whether state or personal, this architecture is a real eye opener, and is rightly, finally, finding its place in helping to define and deconstruct a very complex time. Frederic Chaubin’s book CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed (reviewed in Steppe 9) brought us wonderful photos of some of the most exotic examples of post-war Soviet architecture across the former republics of the USSR, but in the exhibition ‘Trespassing Modernities’ at Salt Galata in Istanbul, Georg Schöllhammer delves deeper into the evolution of post-Stalinist Soviet architecture.
We are lucky enough at Steppe to have published two articles (Issues 6 and 7) using Carolyn Drake’s photos of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya; those two life-giving rivers are at the heart of Central Asia. They define the region absolutely. The land between them, called Mawarannahr (the land beyond the river) by the Arabs, is the settled heart of Central Asia, the land outside them the haunt of nomads, and the interaction of the two provides the history, the culture, the arts that we know and love today. Continue reading Two Rivers
Here at Steppe we’re getting excited about Nowruz, Persian New Year, which is celebrated across Central Asia on March 21st or a day either side depending on when the spring equinox (the sun entering the sign of Aries) is observed. The festival is a grand celebration of the coming of Spring and each country has its own traditions. As a starter for ten, we thought we’d share this beautifully illustrated video of Nowruz, Iran-style. More to come on the different ways it is celebrated in the region in the coming weeks.
If you’re up on your Uzbek Usmanov’s, you may well have heard of Alisher Usmanov – the billionaire steel magnate who has successfully diversified into telecommunications and new media, including a clever purchase of facebook shares that, it seems, netted him £1.4bn at their IPO last May. But you may well not have heard of Jamol Usmanov, an Uzbek painter influenced by Sufi philosophy and the Eastern Sufi poetry of Rumi, Navoi, Nizami et al, although we like to hope he too will become a household name.
An old friend of ours here at Steppe recently launched Travel Local – a site set up to allow travellers from anywhere in the world to book their trip through a locally owned company in their destination, and to do so with complete confidence (payments are 100% protected). For the traveller it means cheaper, high quality trips and for local companies it allows a greater share in the tourism revenue and, I suspect, a more heightened interest in ensuring that everything goes completely to plan. Continue reading Travel Local
I recently reviewed a book on Turkmen carpets for Selvedge Magazine’s winter issue. These carpets are quite spectacular when you stop awhile and appreciate them.
Turkmen Carpets: Masterpieces of Steppe Art, from 16th to 19th Centuries – The Hoffmeister Collection. Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2011, $95
Peter Hoffmeister’s first encounter with a Turkmen carpet in the early 1970s, whilst searching for beautiful things to furnish his home, struck a chord with his “sense of great art to the full”. During the ensuing forty years he has collected these textiles with a passion, inspired by their beauty, their nomadic creators and the historical roots of their design.
The excellent, high-quality photographs in this book allow you to get a real appreciation of these carpets. Spend time pouring over any of the images and it is hard not to become absorbed by the stylised geometric tribal emblems or göl at the heart of the Turkmen carpet. The book’s author, Dr Elena Tsareva, head of textile research at the Kuntskamera Museum in St Petersburg and an expert on Central Asian textiles, reinforces this feeling, describing how “Ornaments and colours are among the most ‘talkative’ of ‘visual texts’, serving as a kind of lingua franca able to carry age-old messages, irrespective of when and by whom they were created.”
In a departure from other books on the subject – and there are a large number – her text takes the form of twelve stories, some applying a broad brush, others deeply focused, with subjects ranging from the carpets of different tribes to a particular type of knot. Throughout, the book is tinged with a certain kind of magic, although I can’t put my finger on whether that is a result of the passionate eye of the collector, the profound and interesting knowledge of the author, the carpets themselves – everyday usable repositories of tradition, lore and pure beauty in a sandy, desert world – or a combination of all three.