ASTANA – Kazakh master craftsmen and women showcased their country’s traditional arts and crafts skills during the two-month Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival in Abu Dhabi.
The trip was organised by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the United Arab Emirates and the Steppe Heritage foundation, headed by Damira Bekmukhamedova.
“This is an annual fair where Kazakh craftsmen have the opportunity to exhibit their work and share their culture with UAE residents,” Bekmukhamedova told The Astana Times.
“The foundation was formed to promote Kazakh traditional crafts and to ensure that a wider audience sees the high quality work,” said Gareth Stamp, co-chair of the foundation. “Their two-month trip gave them the opportunity to share craft traditions and skills and to showcase the best of Kazakh crafts.”
According to Bekmukhamedova, the festival was organised for people in the suburbs and most people couldn’t afford to purchase expensive work.
“Cheap clothing and knick-knacks were in demand. We had four painters who presented their paintings, worth over $1,000, for sale, but such things were not in demand unfortunately,” she said, though she noted that some traditional Kazakh felt crafts found buyers.
“Next year we will bring lesser-known masters with us as we want to support them and help them with marketing and sales. Because they don’t have the funding or enough knowledge, we want to help them using our resources and our finances. For instance, some masters don’t have enough money to purchase the necessary materials and supplies, so we buy those for them,” she added.
“Many of the craftsmen work alone, and although they are skilled makers, they need help to develop their business skills and to sell their goods,” explained Stamp, who pledged to help develop entrepreneurship and support it wherever possible.
“There is a plan to open a shop and offices in Astana before EXPO 2017 so that people can see the quality for themselves and so that the logistics of gathering crafts from all over Kazakhstan can be organised for the event. The foundation has recruited nearly 80 artisans from a wide variety of material disciplines who have to pass strict quality standards to be able to join,” Stamp added.
The visit to the UAE also enabled craftsmen to see other countries’ crafts and experience the traditions and heritage of the Middle East, according to Stamp.