Dressing The Stans

Festive dress for a Pashtun girl, Afghanistan, early 21st century. Festive dress for a Pashtun girl, Afghanistan, early 21st century. TRC 2008.0044b.

1. Introduction

For thousands of years, goods have been transported to and from Central Asia, connecting what is now China, India, Iran, the Middle East, Turkey and Europe. This is the story of the famous Silk Road. It connected people, cities and countries. Along this route, vast numbers of goods were moved, including textiles, clothing and jewellery. And it should be remembered that, some two thousand years ago, goods travelled in both directions. Greek textiles have been found in what is now China; Indian cottons were excavated in Roman period sites in Egypt, Chinese silks ended up in Austria and elsewhere, and Central Asian goods and people also moved in all directions.

Alim Khan (1880-1944), Emir of Bukhara, 1911. He is wearing a blue, silk kaftan with floral decoration, and a heavy, gold belt. Library of Congress.The last remark is important, since Central Asia was for more than a transit area. Central Asia, the hub of this vast mercantile exchange network, developed and expanded upon the production of a variety of items, including textiles and garments, and gave them their own unique technical twists and appearances.

And the Silk Road is not something that is only about the past. The modern One Belt One Road programme of the Chinese government will soon drastically change the appearance of Central Asia and once again intensify its contacts with East and West.

Browse through the exhibition: 2. The 'Stans' of Central Asia »