Monday, September 12, 2016

Uzbek Ceramics: Choose Wisely and Beware of Fakes

Uzbekistan has been traditionally famous for its ceramics. Pottery is an ancient art, and in this region it was very well developed thousands of years ago. Our museums hold fantastic pieces of art - a pleasure to behold - but I also feel very fortunate that we can use beautiful and authentic Uzbek pottery in real life.

This, for instance, is a large serving plate ("lyagan"), that I use every week. It is a very heavy, massive vintage plate that will last forever (you could kill an evil intruder with this piece of applied art!). Most likely, it was made at the Tashkent Ceramic Factory some years ago; as this is a very classic "dark pottery", it can be from 5 to 50 years old.

It is covered by a very thick glaze that looks like a layer of glass.

It will look a bit brighter in the sun. I like these very natural, earthy colours of soil, grass, leaves and wood.

When you look at the bottom, you see a very "healthy" dark red undyed ridge. You can see that it is well-baked, strong and smooth. It is neither underdone no overdone.

This is by no means a masterpiece, but definitely a solid and quality serving plate. I am not ashamed of serving some plov (pilav) to the guests in this plate.

Of course, I have other ceramic items at home, I just had photos of this one handy because I was showing them to ceramic experts several days ago. This plate just serves as a good example of Uzbek pottery.

What serves as a bad example is these plates from a Samarkand shop (you can see the whole article about the shop here).

These are cheap imitation of traditional Rishtan ceramics (Rishtan is a small town in Ferghana valley). They are strangely lightweight and feel "underbaked". In reality, an underbaked pottery is supposed to be somewhat heavier, but I do not have a better word to express my feelings about these. They are deficient. Somehow they do not feel right. My friend who is an expert in ceramics suspects that they add gypsum to the clay to reduce the costs. The ornament is a noisy mess. The colours are too bright so I suspect that they are not all ceramic colours but maybe some oil or acrylic under lacquer and then they are not safe for eating from them. They break easily. In two words - these are evil! I understand that as tourism is developing rapidly in our country, everyone wants to make some money on tourists, but I do not believe in fraud and fakes.

Below you can see two more examples of ceramics I have at home (I have just found some photos taken a while ago and decided to share them as well); the upper one is from Rishtan, the one below is made in Tashkent. You can see that they, too, have lots of blue, but the colours are natural, not "acidic", and the pattern is full  of harmony. They are also reasonably heavy, nice to the touch, and if you knock on them with your fingernails you will hear a clear sound.

When you buy ceramics for Uzbekistan, beware of those cheap fakes. They will not last. Good ceramics cannot be dirt cheap, even if it is made of clay; the materials, equipment, natural gas - all of them cost money; but, most importantly, creating a decent piece takes energy and time of the artist. They do invest themselves into every bowl, dish or teapot they make; it is not an automated soul-less process of stamping similar pieces for purely commercial purposes. Please, do look for beautiful and well-made pieces and do not expect to pay 2-3 dollars, it is not realistic. You cannot buy a good piece of art for that money. Find something nice to take home and pay a fair price - it will help Uzbek pottery artists and their families.

I am going to write more on Uzbek ceramics very soon as we are having a large exhibition in Tashkent and I expect to visit it and learn a lot. Please come back for updates!


  1. I adore the examples of the pottery from your collection! The glazing and line work is exquisitely understated and balanced, perfectly beautiful. Isn't it wonderful to have dishes to serve food in your home that add to the whole experience? The cherries in the bowl are eye candy.

    I can see what you mean by the cheap tourist ceramics. That kind of work can be found in inexpensive import shops in America, too.

    1. Thank you, Clare! I love handmade pottery - it pleasures eyes and hands. And the pieces I own are not expensive, since i bought them in a flea market.

      Yes, shame about tourist ceramics. They ruin a general understanding of what ceramics should look like and how much it is supposed to cost. People get used to this garbage and take it for normal, and then they would not pay $20-30 for a quality item, calling it a rip-off. How are the artists supposed to survive and preserve the tradition?

  2. Very the colors you've shared.

    1. Thank you very much! I love them, too - so exquisite.

  3. what a great post! the pottery is stunning .... I love the older, earthy looking pieces. Someday I will make it to your part of the world to see!


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