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Abu Dhabi to Present the Region's First Exhibition of Embroidery Spanning the Muslim World
Lakai Uzbek, Torba ilgich, Yurt hanging, Late 19th century. Silk embroidery on cotton cloth, tasselled silk fringe, 66 x 74 cm. © AMBA Foundation.

ABU DHABI.- The rich and splendid tradition of Islamic embroidery, sweeping from Pakistan in the East and Morocco to the west, will be the subject of a major exhibition opening 6 April in Gallery One at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Presented under the patronage of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, A Story of Islamic Embroidery in Nomadic and Urban Traditions, on view through 28 July, will bring together more than 200 rare and majestic textiles, including a wealth of embroideries from Central Asia—never before exhibited in the region—that permit visitors to explore the exchange of trade and culture across the Silk Road and beyond. These works, with their kaleidoscope of motifs and colours, create a form of abstract art and testify to the role of Islamic women in creating an artistic tradition of great significance and beauty.

A Story of Islamic Embroidery in Nomadic and Urban Traditions is presented by Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), the entity behind Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island Cultural District. The exhibition is part of a rich programme of artistic and educational programming organised by TDIC leading up to the opening of the Cultural District museums. Embroidery and other Arabic traditions will be represented in the collections of the Saadiyat Island museums, including the Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, all of which will showcase international arts and the region’s own heritage.

The works on view include embroidered garments and decorative objects dating from the 17th to the 20th century that illuminate how the magnificent tradition of embroidery, carried on by urban, rural and nomadic women, sustained regional, tribal and family identities through its integration in communal activities, and how it evolved through the encounter of different cultures. The Andalusians influenced textile-makers in Morocco; the Ottomans influenced artists in Algeria; and all across Central Asia there was continual interchange among Mongols, Uzbeks, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Turkmen and more.

“Abu Dhabi seeks to create institutions and programming that speak to our own culture and to the cultures of the world, reaffirming our age-old place at the intersection of global routes of trade and artistic and intellectual exchange,” said His Excellency Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman, Tourism Development & Investment Company. “Embroidery is a tradition at the heart of our culture, and this important exhibition provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on this shared, rich history of the region and how our artistic past informs the art and culture of today.”

The types of textiles on view fuelled the bustling trade of the region’s bazaars and filled the packs of camel caravans that traversed the desert from Central Asia to Russia, Turkey and beyond. They defined the wearer’s social status – from the ruler’s magnificent gold-embroidered velvet robes to the labourer’s striped cotton and the nomad’s wool. The creation and use of textiles also marked the most joyous and poignant events of family life, from the rites of birth and marriage to those of burial.

Most of the materials in the exhibition were made by women specifically for their families and for members of their communities. For this reason, the Central Asian examples are particularly compelling, since Islamic identity in these countries was strongly discouraged, or even punished, for many decades, and embroidery gatherings provided women with a rare opportunity for Islamic worship.

The exhibition will feature textiles from a number of Central Asian tribes, including a fine example of phulkari embroidery, which was made as part of the preparation for marriage, from the former district of Hazara (now the Pakistani North West Frontier Province); an intricately embroidered Turkoman woman’s robe with motifs including latch-hooks, curving ram’s horns, stylised tulip buds and rosettes; long cloth bands used to hold the high piles of bedding of wealthy families, made by the Lakai and Kungrat Uzbek tribes; an embellished saddle cloth, showing the status and social identity of the rider, from Rasht, Iran; and a suzani, a large, bed-cover sized wall hanging that was included in a dowry, densely embroidered with four large bouquets of flowers, common to urban dwellings in Central Asia.

Other notable objects in the exhibition are wall hangings, door hangings, shawls and chest covers from various regions of Morocco in the 17th through 20th centuries, 18th century shawls from Algeria, and silk embroiders from Sindh and the Swat Valley in Pakistan.

Curated by Isabelle Denamur, a leading textile researcher, collector and author, Islamic Embroidery in Urban and Nomadic Tradition will be accompanied by a series of educational programmes, including musical concerts, lectures, and hands-on workshops. A full schedule of programming will be announced shortly. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue co-written by curator Isabelle Denamur with Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale, who have written extensively on the arts of Central Asia.

Abu Dhabi | The Muslim World | Gallery One | Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan |

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