Rasuljon Mirzaakhmedov
Head, Margilan Crafts Development Center
Sayidafzal Mallakhanov
Head and Editor, Culture Department
Saida Azimova
Senior Expert and Translator, National Commission of Uzbekistan for UNESCO

Uzbek craftsmanship is one of the most significant parts of the creative cultural industry, contributing to sustainable economic and social development of society. Uzbek craftsmanship has not only historical and functional significance but also great artistic value. It has been attracting the attention of travelers and scholars for centuries. During the years of independence, since 1991, the handicrafts industry has undergone significant transformation. Today, it ranks high among the export-oriented creative industries of the national economy. Handicraft is an essential domain of intangible cultural heritage of humanity and plays key role in promoting creative economic development.

Margilan Crafts Development Centre (MCDC) was established to preserve the disappearance of artisan schools and to support master artisans at the newly restored Sayid Ahmad Khoja Madrasah in Margilan with the support of UNESCO in 2007. The following masters represent the MCDC: Rasuljon Mirzaakhmedov and Rakhimjon Mirzaakhmedov (9th generation craftsmen), Alisher Akhmadaliev and Makhmudjon Tursunov (3rd generation craftsmen), and Sherzodjon Goziyev (2nd generation craftsman). The main aim of the Centre is teaching handicrafts (the art of silk and wool carpet weaving, ikat weaving, block printing, and embroidery) and reviving traditions of individual masters. MCDC masters contributed to revitalizing different aspects of ancient ikat making and natural dyeing and reviving various textile schools. Among them it is possible to mention the old design of Bukhara silk velvet ikat called “Alo Bakhmal,” for which Rasuljon Mirzaakhmedov was given the UNESCO Seal of Excellence in 2005.

The MCDC has the following objectives:

  • To promote the revitalization, safeguarding, development, and transmission of Uzbek traditional handicrafts as well as atlas, adras, and ikat production technologies
  • To organize innovative training, master classes, and practical lessons for aspiring craftspeople, school-age youth, students, and teachers of specialized professional colleges to encourage younger generation to learn craft skills
  • To promote traditional craftsmanship at local, national, and international levels by organizing awareness-raising activities and traditional festivals and participating in exhibitions and crafts fairs
  • To improve the livelihoods of the local population by promoting skills development and creating income-generating opportunities
  • To promote ICH for sustainable development

Today, in the specialized workshop of MCDC all the stages of silk production are present, including silkworms breeding, thread unwinding, twisting, dyeing, weaving, designing, and making fine quality products. Moreover, the safeguarding as well as transmission of this traditional craft is carried out by training and capacity-building initiatives for young people, especially girls and disabled people. To that end, the MCDC established partnership schemes with professional colleges and orphanages. Youth are encouraged to learn through non-formal traditional master-apprentice training methods. Advanced learners receive inspiring opportunities to participate and present their products at local, national, and international crafts fairs and exhibitions along with skilled MCDC masters.

The MCDC gathered artisans and bearers with knowledge of different technologies and secrets related to atlas and adras making. More than 500 artisans and knowledge bearers—dyers, ikat and carpet weavers, embroiderers, and designers—contribute to revitalizing different aspects of ancient ikat production beginning from silkworms breeding and finishing with final products.

The activities of the MCDC are manifested in traditional craftsmanship and closely interlinked with the following domains: knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and social practices, ritual, and festive events. The MCDC hosts regular traditional textile festivals, which gather local community, national, and international ICH experts and designers. These festivals include Vodiy Kamalagi (Rainbow of the Valley) and Atlas Bayrami (Atlas Festival).

Cooperation with the National Commission of Uzbekistan for UNESCO, UNESCO Tashkent Office, Korean National Commission for UNESCO, Korea Craft and Design Foundation, DVV International, and various fashion studios has allowed a number of projects to be carried out. For example, Crafts Design for Sustainable Development was implemented with the support of the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, and the Korea Craft and Design Foundation in cooperation with the National Commission of Uzbekistan for UNESCO, MCDC, and the Hunarmand Association between 2014 and 2016. Notably, this was the first international capacity-building project in the field of crafts and design jointly conducted by Uzbekistan and the Korean National Commission for UNESCO. The project aimed to contribute to the sustainable development of the economy based on intangible assets of traditional arts and crafts.

Within the framework of the project, two workshops on reviving traditional technologies for natural dyeing took place (24–27 February and 9–11 September 2015). These workshops united thirty-six amateur and young designers who were selected from the Margilan Professional College of National Handicrafts, the Margilan Professional College of Light Industry and Pedagogy, the Kokand Professional College of Arts, and the Margilan Crafts Development Centre. The project allowed amateur and young designers to upgrade their skills in traditional fabric dying and to improve the quality of their products for branding. In addition, it supported the development of relevant techniques suitable for local needs. The workshops were led by Uzbek masters (from the MCDC), Korean experts (from the universities of Duksung, Sungkyunkwan, and Sejong), and designers (from A&M Studio). During the workshops the participants were divided into three groups: the first group learned how to produce small bags; the second one, how to make cushions; and the third, how to prepare felts.

As a result of the project, more than fifty new outstanding products were developed and designed by combining ancient techniques with contemporary design methods. In addition to this, a manual for young craftsmen entitled “Technologies of Natural Dyeing” was published in two languages and consequently disseminated among colleges, universities, and relevant stakeholders. The manual contains comprehensive information about naturally dyeing silk, cotton, and wool yarns and offers a review of materials and tools that are required for embroidery and carpet weaving and for establishing a dyeing workshop while explaining the process of preparing raw materials and threads.

The project activities were covered on local TV and in the press as well, which also helped to raise the visibility of UNESCO, the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, and Korea Craft and Design Foundation.

As a follow-up measure, some participants had an opportunity to attend the crafts fairs that were organized by the Korea Craft and Design Foundation in 2015 and 2016. Also, outstanding products that were made at the two workshops were displayed at the Crafts Trend Fair of 2015 and 2016. These fairs provided a useful platform for masters from Uzbekistan to get information on traditional crafts of Korea, to get acquainted with crafts design for marketing purposes, and to exchange ideas with local craftspeople of Korea.

Inspired by these fairs, the MCDC, in collaboration with the National Commission of Uzbekistan for UNESCO, is planning to promote its products in Korea as well as countries of Central Asia and Europe. To that end, the MCDC will continue to participate in different international and local crafts fairs, including the 2017 Crafts Trend Fair (Korea). Moreover, there are plans to update the MCDC website, which will help to promote the MCDC and intangible cultural heritage traditions in Uzbekistan. Also, to safeguard, popularize, and market traditional crafts, it is important to launch and support small stores; provide information on the web in English, Korean, and other languages; and publish an MCDC product catalogue (in Uzbek and English).

On the success of the MCDC Uzbekistan recently nominated the Margilan Crafts Development Centre: Safeguarding of Atlas and Adras Making Traditional Technology for the UNESCO ICH Best Practices Register. The file will be considered at the twelfth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage to be held in Korea from 4 to 8 December 2017.