plate 1

illustration 30

The Turkmen wove many different articles besides main carpets, torba and chuval; the engsi is one other. But unlike these other articles the engsi’s function is not nearly as understood, though during the later part of the 19th century engsi were identified as door coverings for the collapsible wood-frame tent, called yurt, all non-settled and even some settled Turkmen used. It is our opinion in earlier times, during what we consider to be the archaic period of Turkmen weaving, this was not entirely the case.

illustration 31

In the already mentioned Turkmen Trapping exhibition an innovative concept was presented. It redefined the cultural determinants and the environment weavings, from the archaic and classic periods as well as some produced later, maintained in Turkmen society.

Basically this concept introduced and forwarded the idea there were four distinct types of weavings:

. weaving made by settled Turkmen
. weaving made by non-settled or semi-nomadic Turkmen
. weaving made for domestic purpose
. weaving made for spiritual or ritualistic purpose

This set-up a new paradigm and way to understand Turkmen pile weaving. More importantly, it proposed a new and unrealized system to categorize them.

It seems clear the complex iconography archaic, and many classic, period engsi voice was the result of being woven as non-domestic products. This observation is far less valid for later examples and implies post-archaic and classic period engsi were intended for domestic purposes, ie to be hung in the doorway of ordinary yurt, rather than the non-secular purpose certain earlier engsi appear to have fulfilled.

This dichotomy is confirmed when the structural materials and dyes of the earliest Turkmen weavings, like engsi, are carefully compared with each other and later examples, subtle differences then become apparent. For all intents and purposes those differences can be directly ascribed to points one and two mentioned above.

Likewise when archaic and classic period iconography is compared, it becomes obvious there are major differences of content, and some of these differences can occasionally be noticed in later examples as well.

Briefly, even among the earliest Turkmen pile weavings, like engsi, there are some with rich, potent iconography, while others demonstrate far less. This supports ideas some were produced for spiritual and ritualistic purpose and other purely domestic. It is also clear only a small percentage of Turkmen pile weaving carries an iconography rich in spiritual or ritualistic connotation. This is the case in the archaic period, as well as subsequently, and it is for this reason hardly any remain extant.

Obviously a more detailed discussion of this tantalizing paradigm is required. However, this would be well outside the purpose of this presentation, which is to detail the idea Turkmen iconography did not unilaterally or independently develop, nor did it just ‘copy’ late 16th-mid 17th century Persian or Turkish court inspired designs. Evidence presented here provides ample documentation to prove it developed within the far larger and broader parameters of a Mediterranean and western Asian artistic and cultural tradition and heritage.

But now back to engsi and a rather ubiquitous icon, albeit one seen on almost always only engsi, the Turkmen called synak.

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This textile is another discovered by Stein at Loulan, and its relationship to the synak comes with the following information.

Pre-Islamic period pile weavings are, to say the least, extremely rare the famous Pazaryk carpet that was discovered in a frozen burial kurgan in southern Siberia the only complete example known. There are some knotted-pile weavings from Egypt and some small fragments of others from other mid-east locations but overall little to nothing is known about pre-Islamic knotted-pile weaving.

There is another one that Stein also discovered at Loulan. It is conventionally dated to the 4th- 7th century AD but might actually be much older considering some of the artifacts also found there, for instance the 3,000 year old mummified remains of a woman as well as numerous Neolithic period stone implements. These artifacts imply a long history of habitation and cultural development at this site.

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