Maira Nurke – Textile artist

Maira Nurke, alumni and lecturer of the Abay State Pedagogical Institute, combines traditional Kazakh textile methods and symbolism with contemporary art forms, guiding students on their individual paths of creativity while at the same time striving to maintain the rich cultural heritage of Central Asian ancestry.

_dsc6805“In the past, when I was a student here, this subject was not being taught – though I would have liked it to be, because it’s really important… At that time there was only fine art and drawing, but during those years when it wasn’t taught at university, in those days it was being done in the countryside. Maybe that’s why it was considered a handicraft, a kind of folk art – made in the villages, so why teach it at university?”

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“But nowadays it’s the opposite – it’s no longer made in remote villages and those old women are gradually disappearing… Perhaps that’s why the time has come for it to be included in the curriculum: the issue has raised itself, and is slowly being addressed.”

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“In the first year here we teach traditional methods – exploring historical techniques and embroidery, looking at how compositions were traditionally formed using one material or another for this or that particular item – only afterwards can students create their own piece. This is also really important: for them to be able to produce items of their own that have value.”

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“So we are very demanding, and very prudent, in ensuring that they get a feeling for the traditional aspects, because only by experiencing those subtleties at first hand can they produce something of their own.”

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“Of course we try to make sure they don’t repeat other artists’ work; it’s essential that they don’t copy their teacher.”

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“There are about six students to a group and it’s necessary to approach each one individually and get a sense of which material they’re closer to: which one they have a feeling for – which one enables them to reveal themselves…  this is crucial: above all else an individual approach.”

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“It’s vital to grab their interest, important to tell them a key phrase – one that gets right to their hearts. From then on it’s easy, because they already know where they’re going; they see the way ahead so they study with pleasure, since from the first day they begin to love this vocation…”

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“And for it to develop further, it’s important for the teacher to develop – to learn about contemporary trends and keep a constant eye on shifts in style, and of course to continue working as an artist. When a teacher develops personally then the students won’t be far behind: it’s a logical consequence, I think, and if a teacher is concerned about the students – genuinely wants this art form to develop further in a positive and valuable way – then I believe that the teacher will strive for self-development…”

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“It’s no secret, I’ve been teaching here for 19 years: after graduating I stayed on here, and it pleases me that there is development.”

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“It’s essential that students are able to work in the presence of other students and of the teacher – for them to feel the aura, the spirit of a workshop. When a teacher works on creative pieces at the same time, alongside the students, they already get attuned to the creative mode: they begin thinking in different, creative ways.”

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“All the same, each time I tell them, “there are five or seven of you, your work should not resemble one another’s, and above all mine – it’s imperative that the works don’t look the same.” But anyway, in some places, certain elements, the presence of the teacher or mentor shows through, somehow.”

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“Most importantly we provide them with the basics, so they can then develop themselves further. It’s also important to me that the students develop internally, spiritually, since I believe that for a work to be interesting, for it to be refined and to reach the viewer, the artist should be sufficiently pure and sincere, because material – especially wool – is living material, and it transmits any emotion, any positive or negative attitude. If a person is sick and produces a piece of work you can feel, intuitively, that there is something wrong in the work: the viewer begins to feel uncomfortable, awkward and wants to move away quickly.”

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“I’ve experienced this, so I try to convey to my students that it’s important for an artist to develop spiritually, and not only to improve their theoretical knowledge: at the same time, an artist needs self-development, and I should set an example for them so they can see with their own eyes how it’s done.”

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“They are sketching designs using Kazakh traditions for subject matter. Often, to introduce students to something new and so they don’t lose touch with their history – the customs linking us with our ancestors – so that this fine thread is not broken, I have to tell them about certain customs that are gradually being lost because there is no longer a need for them.”

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“For example, I was producing this work called “Ak Shymyldyk.” It’s a tradition that’s already fading from our lives, although it has a beauty, a deep meaning. “Shymyldyk” is when one part of the yurt is closed off with a length of beautifully embroidered white material, and each family that is bringing up a young man, when he comes of age… his mother won’t tell him that he needs to get married, that he needs to start a family – it isn’t said openly. She’ll start making a shymyldyk.”

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“These nuances are really important and are felt intuitively. When at the table, she just utters a couple of words: “I’ve begun making, sewing a shymyldyk…” it gives the boy a nudge, makes him start thinking that it’s time he started a family. It’s so ingrained in my subconscious, because I had five brothers and when they got married, at each wedding, the arrival of each bride – each beloved and long-awaited bride – was quite an event, and for me, as a young girl, an unforgettable sensation. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to show, through this work, the bride’s state of mind as she sits there, her eyes lowered…”

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“When I began this work all the girls’ eyes lit up. They became interested in producing this work because they are already of marriageable age. Maybe every nation has similar traditions, but for Kazakh people they are very established.”

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“Each kelin, or bride, is not on first-name terms with her sisters-in-law, even, as a mark of respect – not only towards her husband’s parents, but also to his sisters: she doesn’t call them by their first names and that respect endures – you cannot raise your voice at someone when you’re not on first-name terms with them.”

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“Such elements are deeply embedded in our customs, in our traditions, and it seems to me it won’t pay to lose them. I can’t say they have completely disappeared – maybe some students aren’t aware of them, some remember, some of them don’t know, in some regions it’s done quite differently – that’s why I don’t think they are lost, while there is a chance to pass them on to the younger generation!”

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Tear sheets from Nomad #47:

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