To work with heavenly silk textiles has been a lifelong dream of mine. I am blessed to have been passionately involved in collecting Silk Suzanis, and spreading Suzani awareness and appreciation since May 2012 in Cape Town.
Silk has held a special magic for me since childhood. Watching silk worms eating mulberry leaves and then spinning their golden silky threads. The wonder of colour and pattern observed in nature is a source of great inspiration to me. Learning about Suzanis combine these loves in a special way.
I studied Textile Design and History at the University of Stellenbosch. The Ancient Silk Road history and the silk textiles that traveled along it from the east to the west captivated me.
Suzani is a perfect platform for studying the development and use of pattern over the centuries, to trace its history and to explore different pattern’s origin and ever-changing messages. It is fascinating why some motifs attract and speak to one so instinctively, and others have no impact or can even make you feel uncomfortable.
In 2012 I was captivated by a photograph of a Suzani on a textile blog and commented on its beauty and thus began my direct connection with their fascinating and unique world. I found myself speaking online directly to a new friend and Suzani expert in Bukhara, the very heart of the Ancient Silk Road and craft art in Uzbekistan. I was fascinated to learn as much as possible about this "herstory" in art. Within months I held in my hands with absolute joy my first Suzani from Bukhara.
Azizbek Gulyamov is an expert in Suzanikari and has been passionately involved in its revival for more than a decade. He grew up during Soviet times when traditional Suzani embroidery was denied and not encouraged, but traditional families still highly treasured their inherited Suzanis. Women embroidered armlets to remember and practice the traditional skills they had learned through the ages from their mothers. In his childhood home embroidery was highly respected and cherished, and this memory enchanted and inspired him.
Since the independence of Uzbekistan from Russia in the early 90's it has been a profound joy in Central Asian that women are free to embroider their own traditional and ethnic designs and motifs and to celebrate again freely the magic of traditional Central Asian Suzani creation.
Whilst studying at university in Germany Azizbek also made a thorough study of antique Suzani history and design in museums and private collections online. He returned to Bukhara and set out on his dream to help in the drive to create again traditional Suzanis in Noble Bukhara. With a graphic designer to draw the designs on Adras and carefully selected embroideresses from the villages to do the hand embroidery, they set out to create authentic interpretations of antique Suzani designs. They have since been producing and building up on a series of the most beautiful contemporary silk Suzanis of incredibly high quality.
In 2013 I visited Uzbekistan, and the more I learned and saw of this ancient world of the Silk Road, the more it enchanted me. I need another few lifetimes to explore and learn about only a fraction of it all.
"Suzani embroidery has withstood the passage of time. Created by women over the centuries. 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 motifs and colour that speak magical messages. These have been transformed over generations, but still continue to express the same feeling." The creator of each Suzani remains present inside her handicraft.
Having grown up in a time of machine woven and printed textiles, I am overwhelmed and inspired by these hand embroidered Suzanis with their exuberance, beauty, craft and elegance. I feel that each one of them is an artwork, alive with her own unique energy. I find it thrilling that in this high speed technological time of endless distractions and lack of practicing "slow- time", there are still women who are patiently creating this same pure art and craft of the many generations of women before them. I love the fact that women gain great respect in their community, and a personal pride through the excellence of their embroidered art work. Embroidery Art has always been held in very high esteem in Central Asia.
I am passionate to help in keeping this art form growing. I have built up my own wonderful private collection of Suzanis from Bukhara. I also sell Suzanis from the Suzaniroom at my home.
I have given a series of talks on that which I have discovered on the subject of "Suzanikari" to date and my Suzani Collection has taken part in the following exhibitions in Cape Town. Pictures follow below.
"Patterns of Contact " curated by Carol Kaufmann at the Iziko Museum 2015
It was wonderful to exhibit the Suzanis with the Embroidery Guild of Cape Town at their yearly exhibition at Nova Constantia.
Suzaniroom has exhibited at two Cape Town Antique Fairs and three "Kamers Vol Geskenke" Markets. One in Stellenbosch, then the Caste, De Goede Hoop, and at the City Hall.
My Collection was exhibited for the month of July 2016 at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town.
The Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town Exhibition 2016
“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 of 20 artists 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."
"Sewing Paradise" was very 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 the July 2016 Suzani exhibition
and also an interview from SAfm radio compiled from interviews and speeches on the opening night.
“Sewing Spring” 2017
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. The exhibition lasted for 10 days and was very well attended and enjoyed by many new Suzani lovers.
“The All Silk Suzani Exhibition” 2018
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 historic old walls to be enjoyed by so many appreciative visitors.