To work with heavenly silk textiles has been a lifelong dream of mine that has finally come to fruition. I am very blessed to have been passionately involved in collecting Suzanis, and spreading Suzani awareness and appreciation since May 2012.
Silk has held a magic for me since childhood when I looked after silkworms, fed them mulberry leaves and watched them spinning their golden silky threads.
The wonder of colour and patterns observed in nature have always been a source of inspiration to me. Suzanis combine these loves in a very special way.
I studied Textile Design and History at the University of Stellenbosch. I was fascinated to learn about the Ancient Silk Road and the silk textiles that traveled along it from the east to the west.
I love the language of pattern and motifs, and trying to trace their origin and message back through the mists of time. It is fascinating to me why some attract and speak to us so instinctively, and others have no impact at all or can even make us feel uncomfortable.
Suzani is the perfect platform for studying the development and use of pattern over the centuries.
In 2012 I was captivated by a photograph of a Suzani on a textile blog. I commented on its beauty, and soon after found myself speaking online directly to Azizbek Gulyamov, the owner of "The Little Silk Road Shop" in Bukhara, the very heart of the Ancient Silk Road and craft art in Uzbekistan.
I wanted to learn as much as possible about this ancient "herstory" in art and within months I held in my hands my first Suzani from Bukhara, and thus began my direct connection with their fascinating and unique world.
Azizbek has been passionately involved in the revival of Suzani creation for more than a decade.
He grew up during Soviet times when traditional Suzani embroidery was not encouraged, but traditional families treasured their inherited Suzanis. Women embroidered armlets to remember and practice the skills they had learned through the ages from their mothers. In his childhood home embroidery was highly respected and cherished, and this special memory always enchanted and inspired him.
Since the independence of Uzbekistan from Russia in the early 90's it has been an enormous joy for Central Asians that women are now free again to embroider all the traditional, ethnic designs and motives carried down to them through the ages and to celebrate again freely the magic of traditional Suzani creation.
As a young man whilst studying in Germany, Azizbek made a thorough study of the history and the design of antique Suzanis in private collections and museums worldwide and when he returned to Bukhara he set out on his dream to help in the drive to create traditional Suzanis again. With a graphic designer to draw the designs on Adras and carefully selected embroideresses from the villages to do the hand embroidery, he and his team set out to start creating authentic interpretations of antique Suzani designs. They have since been producing and building on a series of the most beautiful contemporary Suzanis. Many international visitors and textile specialists who have experienced our Suzaniroom in Cape Town, have been overwhelmed by their beauty and remarked on the incredible high quality.
In 2013 I visited Uzbekistan.
Azizbek and his family were my very gracious hosts and tour guides and the more I learned and saw of this ancient world of the Silk Road, the more it enchanted me,
I would need another few lifetimes to explore and learn about only a fraction of it all.
"Suzani embroidery has withstood the passage of time, and has been created by women since those earliest days, and every phase has contributed to the spirit of this art. Each authentic Suzani tells a quiet story to those who understand. Her language is one of motives and colour that speaks magical messages that have been transformed over generations, but still continue to express the same feeling." The creator of each Suzani is still hidden inside her handicraft.
Having grown up in a time of machine woven and printed textiles, I am so inspired by these hand embroidered Suzanis with their exuberance, beauty, craft and elegance. To me each and every one of them is an artwork, alive with her own unique message and energy. I find it thrilling that in this high speed technological time of endless distractions and such lack of practicing "slow- time", there are still women who are quietly and patiently creating this same pure art and craft of the so many generations of women before them.
I love the fact that women were able to gain great respect in their community, and personal pride through the excellence of their embroidered art work. Embroidery Art has always been held in very high esteem in Central Asia.
It is my passion to help in some way to keep this art form alive. I have been importing Suzanis from Azizbek Gulyamov's Bukhara Collection since my visit in 2013, and sell them in Cape Town from the Suzaniroom at my home.
I now have a large selection, and have given a series of talks on that which I have discovered on the subject of "Suzanikari" to date.
My Suzani Collection has taken part in the following exhibitions in Cape Town :
"Patterns of Contact " curated by Carol Kaufmann at the Iziko Museum
The Embroidery Guild exhibition at Nova Constantia 2015,
Two Antique Fairs
Three Kamers Vol Geskenke Markets.
The Suzanis in my care are recorded by professional photographers in order to keep a good digital record.
My Collection was exhibited for the month of July 2016 at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town. The exhibition was called "Sewing Paradise" and twenty Cape Town women artists took part in this wonderful exhibition.
"Sewing Paradise is a celebration of the contribution women make to the world through their creative talents. The show will feature Manina Baumann's magnificent collection of hand-embroidered Uzbek suzanis as well as artworks that have been created in response to these Central Asian textiles. Curated by Michael Chandler, the all-female exhibition aims to explore the notion of the inner-garden; a timeless metaphor for a state of ideal beauty and harmony. Just like the walled gardens of Persia, the essence of a Suzani is one of flourishing beauty, harmony and protection. Philosophically, they are an attempt to create a perfect state and space, a return to Eden. The exhibition aimed to share the embroidered versions of Paradise with the onlooker, and to explore the way contemporary female artists respond to these textiles."
Exhibiting local and international artists, the show also featured lesser-known works by Irma Stern, who herself was an ardent textile enthusiast and collector."
Azizbek joined us in Cape Town and was present for the duration of this exhibition. "Sewing Paradise" was incredibly well received and enjoyed by very many Irma Stern museum members and visitors.
Information about the exhibition can be found on the Museum's website :
http://www.irmastern.co.za/ Past Exhibitions
Below is the link to the interview with Tasleema Allie of 91.3 FM Voice of the Cape during our July 2016 Suzani exhibition at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town,
and also an interview from SAfm radio compiled from interviews and speeches on the opening night.
Azizbek being interviewed by Nancy Richards for SAfm at the Giant Shahrisabz Suzani.
In August 2017 I exhibited Suzanis in Johannesburg at the CO2 Gallery in Craighall Park in a beautiful exhibition called "Sewing Spring". A collaboration between myself and two young artists. My daughter Maria Baumann and Sarah Hooper. The topic was the Persian Garden of Eden as seen in Suzanis. This in turn was the inspiration for their painted artworks. Below is my favorite work from the exhibition by Maria Baumann.
.This year I was very privileged to exhibit All Silk Suzanis at The Great Celler of the Alphen Estate. It was a magical and wonderful experience to be able to have at least 26 beautiful Suzanis hanging on these wonderful old walls to be enjoyed by so many appreciative visitors.