Felt fantasies

Autor of text: 

Zhupar Beissenova is a daughter of the celebrated artist Amangheldy Tursunov. Her love for art and especial passion for the working with felt were transmitted to her genetically.

All the ancestors of Zhupar were engaged in the carpet weaving and creating of legendary alasha and tekemets (Kazakh traditional carpets). Our heroine is familiar not only with the ancient secrets of the carpet manufacture technology, but with the newest inventions in this branch, too. 

Zhupar Beissenova is the author of felt artworks certified by UNESCO, and the member of the creative body to the Union of Teachers-Artists in South Kazakhstan and the Union of Craftsmen in Kazakhstan. And she is also the member of the Union of Artists in our country. 

Traditional felt slippers and high boots, handbags and valises, trendy mobile phone cases are turned into exquisite decorations of their owners, and as for various souvenirs, apples, tapestries and many other things, they always please your eye and make you have an irresistible desire to adorn your house with them. Her designer’s cushions in the shape of melons and curtains made of felt became famous thanks to the artist’s participation in Sheber (Craftsmen), the International competition of craftsmen. At the recent competition in the end of last year she showed her original beach pack made of felt, which included an umbrella, a bag, and a mat.  

Zhupar’s studio is in the South-Kazakhstani College of Arts and Design named after Kasteev. In this premises there are several specially equipped rooms where she shares her mastery with her students. There is a black-and-white photo of the college tutors hanging on the wall. Among them there are legendary Kazakhstani artists such as Gani Ilyaev, Amangheldy Tursunov and Moldakul Narymbetov. And you understand right away how Zhupar’s talent was developed in such interesting creative surroundings.

Interviewer: Zhupar, a few words about your family.

Zhupar Beissenova: I was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in the family of Amangheldy Tursunov, the sculptor who was rather famous in our country. My father knew that I had a talent and developed it in traditional ways. As soon as my vacations came, he would send me to aul (countryside) right away, so that I helped my Grandma to weave alasha and tekemets from felt. At that time our grandmas knew how to work with the wool and create beautiful items in the national style. So, I’ve known since my early childhood how to felt and make artworks from felt. Nowadays, unfortunately, very few people in auls do the felting. That is why today one can get only ancient carpets alasha – they are too rarely made these days. 

I: What is the peculiarity of alasha, why are these carpets so durable? They are never worn out!

ZB: Alasha are the same as tapestry, napless carpets weaved by the ornamental ribbon. They are durable owing to the cotton twine thread technology. In our region alasha were usually made from cotton, and in other regions they were made from wool with horsehair added.

I: When did you begin making felt on your own?

ZB: I finished my eighth year of secondary school and made up my mind to study in the Art School in Shymkent (the South-Kazakhstani College of Arts and Design today), but back then there was no applied arts department. There were only three of them: of make-up artists, designers, and property men. I chose the designers’. When I finished, I continued to study in the National Arts Academy named after Zhurgenev, the textile arts department. We had two subdivisions: tapestry and batik. I studied tapestry.

I remember that at first, while at college, I had rather hard time, and I sometimes asked my father for help, but he would always reply: “Do it yourself!” And I was trying so hard to disgrace neither his name nor mine – because I was his daughter! I am thankful to him for upbringing me in such a way that I have the sense of great responsibility.

I was very lucky in life to have the best teachers. These unique people helped me to develop as an artist. During my studies at the Academy, Saule Bopanova, the celebrated Kazakhstani artist, taught me composition and mastery. I was still doing my second year of studies when she invited me to work at her studio. One day she gave me the commission to make some felt work that she was planning to show at the exhibition in Moscow in 1990. Then I made a small Kazakh tekemet using the traditional felting technique and became the participant in the International Exhibition for the first time. Since that moment my real artistic career had begun. I also learnt much from Raushan Bazarbaeva, the famous tapestry maker.

After my graduation I was invited to work as young specialist at the Art School in Shymkent, where they had just founded the applied arts department. Concurrently with my pedagogic activity I go on participating in exhibitions on a constant basis, perfecting my skills.

I: How did you arrive at the modern technology in felt art?

ZB: I’ve begun mastering new technologies since 2006, when masters of Almaty led by Aizhan Bekkulova, my ex-classmate, started to develop different kinds of applied arts. Aizhan managed to attain that seminars and workshop sessions be arranged for craftsmen, and also various competitions stimulating creative process and technological progress, promoting the development of the national art.

Experts from Kyrgyzstan and US trained us. First of all, they showed us new material – the processed wool easy and pleasant to work with, acquainted us with the simpler and more up-to-date felting technology, taught how to make practical things such as slippers, handbags, kerchiefs, and scarves. Now, good pigments from Turkey and wool of Australian Merinos have become available, and it allows us to make high-quality, bright-coloured and ecologically friendly items.

I: Are you the author of your own know-hows?

ZB: Yes, I am. Every artist searches to create something extraordinary. I remember how in 2009 I brought my pupil Venera Beisbekova and my artworks along with me for the International Exhibition in Kazan. All our felt items proved very popular there and virtually everything was bought from us. And so I am back home, and here Vitaly Simakov, the curator of the show dedicated to the International Women’s Day, asks me to represent something at this. Just a week to go – and I have nothing to demonstrate. 

So I decided to quickly make a felt cushion in the shape of a fish, but it rather reminded a melon than a fish. And I realized that here, in the south, we have many melons, so what if I show this fruit made of felt. And I made two melons. Later, these felt melons won the first place at Sheber competition. Then these unusual cushions got the UNESCO quality certificate. Then, at the other Sheber competition, I won the award again, when I showed felt curtains there. As a result, I got the opportunity to take part in the craftsmen festival in Malaysia.

I: Which of your works are the most interesting ones for your buyers?

ZB: Bright felt slippers are often bought, by foreigners in particular. And soft cushions, and fluffy apples. Everyone is interested in apples, because these are good and reasonably priced souvenirs from Kazakhstan. As for slippers, they are bought by those who understand that this footwear is good for their health. They are warm, soft, and very comfortable. You come home after work, put on such slippers and your tiredness fades away. Your feet breathe easily and freely in natural felt footwear. Even in summer I wear my slippers. 

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