At the Institute of the Arab World, the textile marvels of the last emir


Official portrait of the Emirby Pavel Benkov (1929). The Foundation for the Development of Art and Culture of the Republic of Uzbekistan © Andrey Arakelyan

Over 1100m2Yaffa Assouline has selected costumes and accessories from the court of the last emirs of Bukhara, never before exhibited.

The Institute of the Arab World literally blazes by presenting on 1100 m2 costumes and accessories worthy of Thousand and one Night. Those of the court of the last emirs of Bukhara, never exhibited before. The Uzbek city and its imposing medieval citadel which preserves them lends these treasures of silk and gold, relics of a unique period of pageantry. In their individual windows that allow you to turn around, or in groups, suspended in the air as in an opiate dream, majestic velvet and gold coats called chapans constitute a kind of apotheosis of the ancestral caravan cities of Asia. central, just before the communist leveling.

“It was September 2, 1920, recalls Yaffa Assouline. Bukhara became the Soviet People’s Republic, and the last emir, already under protectorate, fled to Afghanistan. He left a palace in which his predecessor Muzaffar ed-Din (1860-1885) had set up a private weaving workshop and another for embroidery. The sovereign decided for himself, his family, his court and even his soldiers on the patterns and motives to wear. It is easy to imagine this magnificence of yesteryear at the IMA, because, in addition to the chapans, here are heavy jewels and turbans, hand-painted wooden saddles, silver horse harnesses set with talismanic turquoises. And more tribal ikat kaftans, a type of virtuoso silk since it is dyed end-on-end before weaving. And finally carpets and tablecloths called suzanis, very colorful floral and stellar universes, almost psychedelic.

Extreme diversity of techniques and materials

Compared to these ensembles, some surprising paintings. Orientalist productions from the Russian avant-garde at the turn of the 20th centurye century. These paintings had never left their museum in Noukous, nicknamed, for its richness and its remoteness, the “Louvre of the steppes”. But what is most striking here, in this selection by Yaffa Assouline, is the extreme diversity of techniques and materials. Chinese silks, local or Indian cottons, steppe and mountain wools are combined with, sometimes, lengths from Leeds or Lyon as diplomatic gifts. Because, in those years that Rudyard Kipling called “the Great Game”, the khanates of Central Asia were the object of intense struggles for influence. The whole world seemed to court their rulers. And, in Bukhara, the war of elegance was in full swing.

“On the roads of Samarkand. Wonders of evening and gold”, until June 4, 2023 at Arab World Institute (Paris 5e).

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