Based on the discovery of carpet knives in late Bronze Age graves in Central Asia, carpet making is thought to stretch back to the 14th century B.C.E.—but for a time, the pursuit of this ancient craft came to a halt in Uzbekistan. Traditional handicrafts were banned in the early 20th century when the country fell under communist control; they were seen as distractions from a future dedicated to industry. But after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, the Uzbek government encouraged people to re-engage with the arts that defined their cultural heritage. Ulugbek Kosimov is not only part of this revival of traditional craft—he is a leader.
As a hereditary carpet weaver from Bukhara, an ancient Silk Road city esteemed for excellence in craft and art, Ulugbek feels a responsibility for preserving and promoting Bukhara’s classical school of carpet weaving and maintaining its authenticity. With the help of UNESCO, Ulugbek started a school of silk dyeing and carpet weaving, and about 250 carpet weavers in Bukhara have attended his classes.
Using silk as his primary medium, he dyes yarn with madder root, pomegranate shells, cochineal, indigo, and other organic materials. The weaving process is intensive. His carpets have 600 to over 1,000 knots per square inch, and depending on the size and density, it may take him an entire year to create just one.
Ulugbek stresses the uniqueness of carpets woven in the Bukhara tradition. He explains, “The real Bukhara carpets originated in the Zoroastrian period when people in Bukhara worshiped the Sun and Fire. In the designs, living creatures—people, animals, birds, fishes, characters of different religions, mythical creatures [are depicted interacting with each other] and nature. The Bukhara carpet is a woven story. If you learn how to read such a carpet, it can tell you a lot of interesting things.”