Suzani are handwoven silk embroideries originating from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, specifically a region formerly known as the Emirates of Bukhara and Kokand before they became Soviet Republics.

The name ‘suzani’ is derived from the Farsi word for ‘needle’ and the fabrics were originally dowry weavings made by a bride’s family to present to the groom on her wedding day. In Central Asian tribal society weddings were important because they fused two families and secured the future of a tribe for at least another generation. Therefore the suzanis are typically adorned with decorative motifs that symbolise luck, health, long life and fertility. Over several centuries their patterns have evolved into highly sophisticated designs that are frequently floral. A typical suzani might resemble a canopy of dense foliage, blossoming into vivid crimsons and deep maroons. The plants are arranged into a series of rhythmically recurring forms that create the image of ordered chaos.

A bridal dowry gift of needlework or weaving is an ancient custom believed to have existed in most civilisations at one time or another. The textiles were an expression of a bride-to-be’s wealth and domestic skills, although Suzani were also an important media for artistic expression in Central Asia and through them we can trace a visual language stretching back millennia. Fundamental to the Suzani tradition was that entirely new embroideries were made for every wedding and fashions changed with each generation. Early Suzani of the mid 1700s to around 1875 are the most treasured today, and many were brought to the West by 19th century travellers seeking souvenirs.

Tashkent region, Emirate of Kokand
mid 19th century
190 x 242 cm
Silk embroidery on a cotton foundation

Ascending Flowers in a Diamond Leaf Lattice
Kermina, Emirate of Bukhara
first half of the 19th century
170 x 252 cm
Silk embroidery on a cotton foundation

Suzani with Ascending Carnations and Trailing Stems
Bukhara, Emirate of Bukhara
first half of the 19th century
152 x 229 cm
Silk embroidery on a cotton foundation

Suzani with Star Medallion and Flowers
Ura-Tube, Emirate of Kokand
first half of the 19th century
179 x 212 cm
Silk embroidery on a cotton foundation

To make the suzanis, lengths of undyed cotton were bought from the market and sewn together to create a generous expanse of fabric, onto which traditionally the grandmother would draw the design in ink. Various female members of the family would then embroider the different panels in their spare time, although the bride did the majority of the work. Delicate silk was used for the majority of the embroidery. At the height of the ancient Silk Road, which ran through the region, silk was extremely expensive, however, in the late 18th century the Emir of Bukhara learnt that the silkworm lives on mulberry bushes and planted the Zarafshan Valley with them which greatly increased silk production.

The Afridi Gallery is honoured to present this remarkable collection of 19th century suzani, and offer a unique opportunity to encounter a collection of such rarity and beauty.

The exhibition “Gardens of Delight” Enchanting Suzani from Central Asia is on view Monday – Friday by appointment at the Afridi Gallery 76 Royal Hospital Road London SW3 4HN Telephone Anthea Roberts 020 7349 9909