Shukurillo Kamalov is part of a talented family. He is a sixth-generation blacksmith and knife maker from the ancient city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. The city was a center of scholarship, culture, trade, and craft along the Silk Road that boomed during the medieval period in Central Asia and remains a center of excellence in the arts. The Kamalov family has long been steeped in this creative and industrious culture, and male family members become familiar with blacksmithing at a young age. Shukurillo recalls listening to discussions of metallurgy and metalwork as a boy, watching his father forging in the family workshop after school, and being allowed to hold the finished pieces. Upon finishing school at age 16, he became his father’s forging partner, and they still work together today. He describes himself as a happy person, because he gets to do his “dream job,” continuing the traditions of his ancestors, while surrounded by his loved ones.
A history buff and fan of documentaries, Shukurillo looks to his country’s past for inspiration. From the medieval period forward, knives have been produced according to specific standards which vary by district; in Bukhara, traditional knife shapes and ornamentation have been preserved. Shukurillo and his father forge Damascus blades created by folding different types of steel together over and over, then etching the metal with acid to reveal the complex patterns created by the process. The blades are filled with gray-on-gray designs that look like wood grain, sound waves, and raindrops falling in puddles. Others feature images of animals in landscapes or surrounded by decorative motifs. They are finished with brass guards and handles made from antler, bone, and wood, often further embellished with mosaic pins and semiprecious stones.
Shukurillo says that knives hold a special meaning in Uzbekistan. “In many countries they never give knives as a gift, superstition says this will lead to a quarrel, but in Uzbekistan a knife is considered to be the most expensive and prestigious gift. People here are sure that all pointed and sharp objects have the power of protective amulets which can ward off diseases and misfortunes.”