Kazakhstan’s Textile Heritage Revived

Kazakhstan’s Textile Heritage Revived
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Silk and Felt cloth from Aigul Line
Silk and Felt cloth from Aigul Line
Michal Shapiro

I came back from Kazakhstan to a New York in the throes of fashion week AND the New York Textile Month, an initiative by Li Edelkoort, the Parsons School of Design and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

The confluence of events could not have been more in synch with the experience I had brought back with me. In her manifesto for the Textile Month Ms. Edelkoort writes: “At a time when textile heritage is at a crossroads and centuries of tradition and knowledge are being compromised, the need arises to protect these endangered species in the same way we have come to defend our animal friends in the natural world.”

So here is the video that I made about a remarkable woman who has made a difference in breathing new life into a rich heritage of textile-making that was almost unknown to a new generation of globalized Kazakh citizens.

Aigul Zhanserikova graciously welcomed me into her atelier and allowed me to shoot while her employees created wonderful wool felt cloth right in front of my eyes. It is all hard, time-consuming work, done by hand, but the results are top quality. And the Merino wool she works with, is all from sheep raised in Kazakhstan, in the villages she visits.

The Aigul Line has empowered women all over Khazakstan to create sellable products, and just before I started shooting the felting demonstration, a troop of students, all eager to intern with Ms. Zhanserikova showed up. I was inspired!

-By the way, some of the newer textiles combining felt and silk with striking Kazakh patterns were so lovely I wished I could buy them all. I hope that more young fashion designers will reach out to work with these gorgeous products in new and imaginative ways.

A word about the sweet music behind the interview. It is called Zhez Kiik, which means "Golden Antelope." Saiga antelopes are indigenous to the Kazakh steppes and are critically endangered now. The Kazakh people have respected them from ancient times, and folk music like “Zhez Kiik” reflects this. Kazakhstan also has a significant Russian population, and consequently an appreciation for classical music is quite prominent. The recording I used of “Zhez Kiik” is by Akhmet Zhubanov, a Kazakh who composed many classical settings for folksongs during the Soviet period. My thanks to Aisha Mukasheva for sending this archival performance to me.

My thanks also to The Embassy of Kazakhstan in the U.S. and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan for making my journey possible.

To find out more about Ms. Zhanserikova, visit aigulline.kz/e

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