“We Mustn’t Lose What We’ve Been Gleaning For Two Decades,” — Rustem Skibin

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Famous Crimean Tatar master of ceramics speaks of returning from deportation, reviving the Crimean Tatar material culture, arts and crafts, and of difficulties of the current situation at the peninsula.

Rustem Skibin is well-known by connoisseur of ceramics both in Ukraine and abroad. Basing on traditional forms and ornaments of Crimean Tatars, the master created his own recognizable style of painting the ceramics with colour enamel. The artist spent many years for collecting, analyzing and recreating the traditional technologies of everyday-used ceramics upon his return to Crimea; he also gleaned the professional terminology in his Mothertongue.
Rustem was forced to leave his Homeland and change his profile after the Crimean peninsula had been occupied and annexed: now he’s an active participant of “Crimea_SOS” project.

Rustem, what made you move to the inland Ukraine?
I can’t say I moved for good. The idea was to bring the women and the children of the family to a safer place. At the same time I spoke to my colleagues from the regions who experienced military actions recently about how those situation influenced their cultural heritage. I assessed the risk and decided to be on the safe side and brought my collection of arts and crafts (consisting both of modern and antique pieces) to a safer place. We mustn't’ lose what we’ve been gleaning for two decades.

The whole families leave Crimea in fear for their safety. I’ve already been there after the annexation, and I can say that the situation got a little better. My family returned home already. As for me, I’m staying here with my collection. I’m occupied in the “Crimea_SOS” project at the moment where my friends invited me, as I want to try to be maximum useful for my Homeland in this situation.

How the politics influence on the Crimean craftsmen? Are there admissible conditions for you to continue your work?
Of course all these events make a great psychological pressure on everyone nowadays. As for me, I can’t work since the occupation by the Russian military, than named “Crimean self-defence troops” , started; I’m to depressed to create anything good. And I’m not the only one who feels it; you can see it in the works of the craftsmen who proceed creating things.

Besides, the established master-client links were broken. People spent years to get the mechanisms op placing orders, payments, delivery — all this is gone now. And, of course, many people avoid spending money due to the dented economy. But we’ll try hard to do something anyway, develop our initiatives and cultural projects.

Upon returning from deportation we had to restore our material culture from practically nothing. A huge piece of work is done? and now we do our best not to lose what we have, — and, ideally, continue developing our research.

Several craftsmen moved to the inland Ukraine and plan to continue their work from here, As for me, I can’t put up without Crimea for a long time, I’m too stuck to it. I won’t take a long shot and say if I’ll be able to work in terms of occupation, all in all they can just don’t let me in, as I’m a rather active participant of anti-separation initiatives. I’m an artist and I’m trying to stand aside — but this situation won’t let anyone stand aside. I’m really concerned about preserving our culture, and I’ll support cultural initiatives from any party.

Crimean tatar culture has been developing freely in Ukraine over past 20 years, no one resisted us. These were the two very productive decades in quite comfortable conditions for reviving our culture. We managed to restore and recreate many things, and you can see in in our works, in the comments and reviews by our collectors and fine art experts both from Ukraine and abroad.

All of us will try to maintain the establisher dies with the inland Ukraine as much as possible anyway. Thus, the Crimean craftsmen are planning to bring their works to the traditional spring fair, held at Pirogovo state museum for Ukrainian architecture and everyday life on May 1-4 — if, of course, the’ll let us pass the checkpoint.

As far as I know, the Crimean Tatars of the steppe part of the peninsula and the Crimean Tatars of the South coast varied quite a lot in aspects of their culture, their arts, and even in their language before the deportation. How you distinguish these peculiarities now when you find some element or other?
Our artistic union, the “Chatyr-Dag”, is headed by Mr. Mamut Churly, who is an artist, a fine arts expert and a very single-hearted man. I’ve got it bad after I met him. It was Mamut-bey to teach us, youngling at that time, to love and preserve our culture.

Of course, at first we started collecting and studying everything we could, and did it randomly. A very little remained, and of course we at the time didn’t have any specialists who could attribute things to some region or other. For that reason, we spent some time just collecting things and information, holding seminars for exchanging what we’ve found.

Later we started our first attempts to read the ornaments from the embroidery and pictures that we’ve found, and tried to classify where we got some or other element from. This work still lasts, and Mamut-bey is writing a huge research on that. Still there’s a lot of work to do, as from the scientific point of view we barely started.

We mostly studied artistic structure, ornament styles, language of ornaments, and now we can create ones on our own freely. You know, you need to saturate a sponge with water to make is soak. We were like that sponge: we saturated all the visual imaginary, all these peculiarities of forms and patterns, and only after having done this we started creating something on our own.

Our research is directed to finding artifacts clearly attributed to certain regions, and now we can see how the steppe ornaments differ from the ones of the South coast, and how the South coast itself varies in the West, in the centre and in the East. We can make a more detailed classification as soon as we get more of those pieces, however, we already have a general understanding that a steppe ornament is more light, there is more air in it, while the mountain ornament is mostly geometric and monochrome, and it’s clear that it was inspired by the rocks and the mountains.

Where do you find those pieces?
There are several sources. These are museum collections first of all, mostly situated in Crimea. Communication is the second: we arrange expeditions to the villages and talk to the elderly people who not only kept the past everyday life details in their memory, but also still have some things from that time, the things the took with them when being deported, kept in exile and brought back Home.

We know such families and we try to study the heirloom they have as much as possible. Theres a lack of resources unfortunately, namely time and people, — the work, however, moves on step by step.

I want to mention a very good initiative by Ms. Zarema Hayretdinova named “Aile degerlikleri” (“Family heirlooms”). Within its framework children find some heirloom at their homes and write researches about those cherished pieces. This is great when a child does an own research at the early age and develops habits of scholarly endeavor, and at the same time this child gets a better insight in the native culture. Such activities strengthen the kidd’ love to their own culture.

We plan to make an expedition over the museums in other regions of Ukraine where Crimean Tatar arts and crafts are available.

The Crimean Tatar goldwork was revived thanks to Ms. Zuleikha Bekirova who came to Crimea despite her advanced age in early 90ies to teach younger embroiderers. The art of jewelry was raised from the ashes by Mr. Aider Asanov. Who tutored the masters of ceramics?
Unfortunately we don’t have such succession in the art of Crimean Tatar ceramics. All the necessary information is gleaned by ourselves. Some things we understand from intimate impulse , and some things result from toilsome research of the remaining pieces of material culture. Many things can be obtained from the neighbouring cultures. We, of course, appeal to Ukrainian and Turkish ceramics most often, as these ethnic groups are our closest neighbours.

You can see the results around you: if it is terracotta ceramics, it looks like the one by Eldar Gusenov or Abdyul Seytametov nowadays.

It’s a big luck that we met Mr. Leonid Korsun, the profound master of ceramics, who was taught by the Crimean Tatars how to make a surail (a water jar) when a youngster. Half a century later he passed this knowledge to us, and now our people have it again. We restored not only the surail thanks to this person, but also other things with similar elements. For instance, we understood how the craftsmen of the past fixed the handles to their pieces.

Relations between the master and apprentice are very important, of course. We can observe them in other crafts where such succession remained. And, thank God, we have ancient manuscripts telling on the statutes of the workshops and the master-apprentice relations, and we try to recreate them. This gives a better insight in our creativity and culture.

Besides, we took some master-classes with Uzbek ceramists of 9th generation, who have these traditions; we travelled a lot and attended workshops in Ukraine and Turkey; took master-classes at the tradeshows all over the world. For instance, I went to Oman. When you learn another culture, you always try to find some elements similar to your own, see how some or other element is made, every little technique, and learn how to use it in your own work. Every little bit helps.

Basic knowledge developed by our craftsmen and their eagerness to invest their time and money in research gives us hope that we can afford a laboratory research of the ceramics of some or other period (the techniques differ) in the nearest future. This, of course, takes time and funding.

There are many young people today who not only wish to be artists, but want to make their input in reviving traditional arts and crafts of their people. Many of the former apprentices became masters and now teach their own students. This gives us hope that, God willing, this succession line will never break again.

Has the demand for things in their national style increased among the Crimean Tatars?
It has been obvious over the recent years that such demand exists. We are in a recession now when Crimea is occupied — in every country somehow involved in the conflict. But the interest for such things increases every day, and this fact can’t but fill our hearts with joy.

This demand replaced the vogue of “oriental”, when people bought everything somehow related to the East — Turkish, Arabic, Central Asian style — and brought it home. Now people already know that there’s native Crimean tatar craft, and it consistently forces the objects of foreign culture out of interiors at homes, hotels, mosques, etc,

A Cathedral Mosque is to be built in Simferopol. Are the Crimean Tatar craftsmen invited to decorate the interior in the national style? Turkish tiles are stunning, of course, but the style and pattern are completely different…
They haven’t come to this stage so far as far as I know, because there were no discussions of this issue to my knowledge. This depends on the project owner, I suppose. Of course I would like our craftsmen to be involved in the process.

Such trend, however, exists. We were, for instance, to decorate a ritual complex; to participate in reconstruction of the Khan Mosque in Bakhchisaray, where I had to make ceramic panels for the interior. These two projects are postponed at the moment, but, God willing, we’ll resume and complete them.

We want to establish a cultural centre representing five of six traditional crafts as well. We can start with creating collections based on this centre, and it’ll be much easier to implement large-scale projects if the workshops start working with maximum performance.

Speaking of the postponed projects, the cancelled book illustrator seminar-symposium must be mentioned. It was to take place in Crimea on March, but then was cancelled for obvious reasons.

We can’t afford the rent of the planned place now, as the owner changed the terms dramatically. But we’ll find another place. Meanwhile we want to use the funds we raised for continuing our work, providing help to Crimean craftsmen if needed, and facilitating some seminars.

Interviewed by Tetyana Evloeva

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