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Uzbek Embroidery in the Nomadic Tradition:
The Jack A. and Aviva Robinson Collection

Minneapolis Institute of Art
June 2–August 26, 2007

Minneapolis, April 13, 2007–Dazzling Central Asian textiles from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are on display in a new exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). Sixty dynamic and intricately patterned embroideries from the nomadic and rural peoples living along the fabled Silk Road are on view June 2 through August 26, 2007. The embroideries, ranging from highly abstracted wall hangings to boldly colored horse covers, reflect the diversity and aesthetic traditions of Central Asia as well as the identity and cultural values of their creators—the horse-breeding Lakai Uzbek, the agrarian Kungrat Uzbek, and the settled peoples of Samarkand and Bukhara. The exhibition, organized by the MIA, and the accompanying catalogue are a celebration of the gift of ninety-seven embroideries to the museum from the superb collection of Jack A. and Aviva Robinson.

“We are thrilled to have on public view for the first time a portion of this generous gift from the Robinsons,” said William M. Griswold, Director and President of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “Only now, with the addition of these objects to our permanent collection can the MIA’s holdings of Central Asian textiles be considered a major resource in this country and abroad.”

Merchants of Central Asia have long been famous for their luxury goods transported along the Silk Road, but little international exposure has been given to the stunning textiles created for local use, such as interior fabrics, dowry treasures, and items defining social and cultural identity. The gift of the Jack A. and Aviva Robinson Collection allows the MIA to present these seldom seen nomadic and rural embroideries, along with more opulent urban pieces, offering visitors a more comprehensive understanding and rare insight into the range and dynamism of the Uzbek style.

Created within the women’s sphere, Uzbek embroidery is honored within the entire social structure. And, as with many world cultures, the Uzbek people of Central Asia consider skillful embroidery an indicator of personal industry and refinement. Both the Kungrat and especially the Lakai people place particular emphasis on artistic accomplishment as well as technical excellence. These embroideries not only bring status to the tribe and honor to the household, but they also function as vehicles of cultural memory and continuity. Their colorful embroideries explore the balance between traditional parameters and the aesthetic freedom of individual artists.

Highlights of the exhibition include exceptional examples of ilgichs (small wall hangings) from both the Lakai and the Kungrat. The intense kinetic energy of the Lakai’s embroideries is manifest in several of the ilgichs, which feature vibrating, double-tailed scorpion imagery as well as designs that are powerfully abstract. An appreciation for floral and spider motifs inspired the Kungrat to devise design elements that transform familiar representations of natural forms into enigmatic imagery. Both the Lakai and Kungrat Uzbek embroideries in this exhibition experiment with stitch variations, thread structure, and fiber sources to create luminosity. They also play symmetry against asymmetry, to balance space within their compositions.

The embroiderer’s artistic compositions also represent the culture’s view on the relationship between humans and nature. In the urban embroideries, compositions of distinct floral patterns depict well-ordered gardens that suggest nature is improved by human control, and for maintaining harmonious balance. The nomadic view was not one of dominating nature, but rather a relationship of nature as a partner. Abstract motifs reflect a dynamic yet integrated power. Seen together, these beautiful and vibrant textiles help reveal the history, anthropology, and mythic tales of a relatively unknown culture.

The fully illustrated catalogue, Uzbek Embroidery in the Nomadic Tradition: The Jack A. and Aviva Robinson Collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, accompanies the exhibition, and is distributed by Art Media Resources, Ltd, on behalf of the MIA. This color catalogue was written by Central Asian art experts Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale, and includes a preface by Lotus Stack, Curator of Textiles at the MIA. This hardcover catalogue is available for purchase at the MIA shop for $59.95 or online at

Related Exhibition
A complimentary exhibition, Silk and More: Central Asian Textiles, is on view in the MIA’s textile galleries from April 28 through October 14, 2007. Celebrating the complexity and diversity of Central Asia’s rich aesthetic textile heritage, this exhibition includes complex silk ikats, elaborate suzani embroidery of urban areas, and tent bands and felts from the nomadic tradition. Textiles from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan to Turkmenistan, are on view, and range from works by individual artists who have helped maintain cultural traditions for millennia to embroideries by highly skilled urban artists, who often reflect influences from their many foreign interactions.

About the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses nearly 100,000 works of art representing more than 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt, Poussin, and van Gogh; modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Stella, and Close; as well as internationally significant collections of decorative arts, Modernist design, prints and drawings, photographs, and Asian, African, and Native American art. General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum hours: Sunday, 11 A.M.–5 P.M.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 A.M.–5 P.M.; Thursday, 10 A.M.–9 P.M.; Closed Monday. For more information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit

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