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Supporting traditional crafts

Traditional crafts form an essential and integral part of all cultures. In Central Asia there are many different forms of handicraft, found both throughout the region or distinctive to one particular area or ethnic group. The nomadic peoples that have inhabited the region for Millenia, engaged in animal husbandry so naturally they tended to concentrate on processing and utilising the material they were surrounded by, animal skins, wool, chiy grass. The agriculture based settlers however made use of silk and cotton. Both were adept at manufacturing utensils and jewellery from wood, and metal.
Nowadays textile-related arts and crafts such as wool, felt, embroidery, patchwork, silk and velvet comprise the main element of the region's traditional crafts since these materials allow for a the most diverse and creative variety of applications. Other crafts such as ceramics, metalwork, wood carving also enjoy widespread popularity. Faithful to the art and craft of their ancestors, most craftspeople still prefer to work with natural raw material, obtained locally, although more modern textile innovations are occasionally incorporated.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been an upsurge of interest in traditional crafts - in rural communities especially . The revival of craftsmanship throughout the region has fallen largely on the shoulders of the women in the community - many of them working from home rather than from a studio, workshop or factory. Their handiwork is in many cases a substantial part of - the family income. Throughout the region craftspeople have organized themselves, pledging mutual support and to preserve the traditional crafts and cultures by educating and training a new generation in techniques and symbolism, whilst also designing new products, adapting them to the requirement of an international clientel and the market needs of the tventy first century.
One such group is the Central Asian Craft Support Association, (CACSA). CACSA unites over sixty local craft groups from across Central Asia, including Mongolia. Its origins lie in the work of various international organizations, such as "Aid to Artisans" who started their cooperation with CACSA in 1994. The Association provides support for its members, many of whom are ordinary people with little, or no, experience of running a business. Information and training seminars, symposiums and workshops; the UNESCO seal of excellence award, participation in various international festivals and exhibitions abroad and in Central Asia, such as the yearly Bukhara Silk and Spice Festival and a very active festival schedule within Kyrgyzstan, the production of information and advertising materials and an outlet for the finished products are all coordinated by CACSA. Add to that the recently established full fledged trading company and their all encompassing website, to make crafts from Kyrgyzstan more widely available and accessible and to reach an indeed very interested global market.

Discovery Central Asia #17

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