Two Exhibitions held at the Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul
19 April to 19 August 2007
The beauty of Ottoman rugs from western Anatolia has clearly appealed so greatly to generations of the people of the Transylvania region of Romania that they have cherished and displayed hundreds of them in their churches for at least five centuries. These rugs mostly came from the provinces of Usak and Manisa and represent a part of Turkish art history that would otherwise have been lost, as very few similar examples survive in Turkey.
In the Muslim world, rugs have a number of functions: as platforms for prayer, as seating mats, bed and table covers or indeed items for sale. In pre-Islamic times the carpets of the Orient served as reflections of heaven, and their symbols were designed as protection and as a means to carry the soul to the next world. Although the same patterns can still be seen on rugs from as late as the 19th century, their ancient meanings were largely lost centuries before. As each generation made their own carpets, the old ones were often discarded, and the tradition was kept alive by the act of making new rugs.
The old rugs found new homes outside the Islamic world and many were treasured and preserved, with the result that far more antique rugs have survived outside of their countries of origin. From the 15th century onwards, trade in Transylvania relied heavily on the Ottomans, and up to the early 18th century, there was a great demand for Turkish rugs in western Europe, as can be seen from the numerous depictions in European paintings. In the mosques the rugs were used on the floor, but the Christians admired and respected this great art and often appreciated and displayed the carpets as 'works of art' on their walls.
Examples showing the variety of patterns displayed by these rugs were selected from the churches and museums in Romania. Added to these were examples once in the churches and now in Hungarian collections, along with a small group from Berlin that show how similar patterns seen on west Anatolian rugs were adopted in Egypt both before and after the Ottoman conquest in 1517.
This exhibition of 41 antique Anatolian rugs was organised in co-operation with the National Brukenthal Museum in Sibiu, the Evangelical Church A.C. of Romania, the Romanian Ministry of Culture and Cults, the National Museum of Art in Bucharest, the Hungarian National Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest and the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin.
Situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, in the mountainous, and in parts inaccessible north-eastern region of the Caucasus, once flanked by the Russian, Ottoman and Iranian empires, Daghestan is today the southernmost border republic of the Russian Federation. Over half of the population of 2.5 million lives in 700 lowland and mountain villages. There are 31 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language. In a mountainous region in the south-east, near Derbent, lived and live a small multi-ethnic, multi-faith group of people, the Kaitag, who have over the centuries created remarkable and vibrant works of art in the form of small rectangular panels embroidered with vividly coloured silks. While today the Kaitag are a small 'nationality', they were among the first inhabitants mentioned in Arabic sources in the 7th century, and were famous as stubborn warriors until the 1850s.
The history of the Kaitag area has been one of constant struggle against successive waves of invaders ñ Sasanians, Huns, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, the Mongol 'Golden Horde', followed by Timur, the Ottomans, the Iranians and, finally, the Russians. Under Tsarist and Soviet rule Kaitag lost its political identity. Until then the villages were run as free societies with a self-contained pattern of life that preserved an unbroken tradition of design and craft. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian and pagan symbolism were the remarkable legacy of this past.
The art of Kaitag embroideries survives in less than 1,000 examples, dating from the 16th century (under Ottoman influence) through to the 19th century, mostly now in museum and private collections throughout the world. The Kaitag embroiderers were blessed with a special artistry and inspiration beyond that found elsewhere. This was linked in part to their awareness of the international silk and textile trade that passed through nearby Derbent on the silk route along the Caspian Sea, bringing a greater volume of different styles and approaches than could have been seen by artisans working in other materials. The vast repertoire of bold designs - from such a small region - that give the Kaitag textiles their beauty and fascination is partly a result of the history of the region, through which so many different conquerors had passed during the previous two thousand years, and partly the inspiration of the local artists.
These embroideries were once not only put to practical use as pillow covers but also were important for domestic ritual occasions connected with birth, marriage and death. Babies were protected from the evil eye by placing talismanic embroideries at the head of the cradle with the embroidered side facing inwards. On the first day of a wedding ceremony, the bride would come to the groomís home carrying her jewellery and dowry presents wrapped in a cloth, again with the embroidered side facing inwards. On death, the custom forbade looking upon the face of the departed so it was covered with a cloth, embroidered side down. The cloth would not be buried but passed from parent to child.
As with local felt making today, the Kaitag panels were embroidered by specialists and sold to other villagers. The majority of these textiles were created freehand, and sixteen different stitches have been identified, which show the great versatility and skill of the embroiderers who worked the silk, which was once widely produced in Daghestan. A large variety of natural dyes was also available in the area: at least eleven different yellows came from locally grown plants, and Derbent was famous for exporting the roots of the madder plant, which yielded a range of reds.
Kaitag art speaks to people of diverse cultural traditions. French art-lovers respond to a proto-Matisse style; in Sweden they see ancient Scandinavian art; Australians are reminded of Aboriginal art and in the US they see Abstract Expressionist paintings. Indeed, all these echoes are references to the common experience of the primal appeal of Kaitag embroideries, which is based on shared animist archetypes.
The publication in 1993 of this remarkable collection of 47 embroideries in Chenciner's Kaitag, Textile Art of Daghestan brought Kaitag textiles to the attention of the world. Since its publication this collection, which represents most of the known patterns, has been presented at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (1994), Christinehof Slott, Sweden (1994), and the Deutsches Textilmuseum, Krefeld, Germany (1995). Other Kaitag exhibitions have been shown in Boston (1994), Sydney and Melbourne (1995). The Sabanci Museum presented KAITAG, Textile Art of Daghestan for the first time in Turkey.
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Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul,