Turkestan Journey, the current, free exhibition at Asia House, recalls a time a hundred years or more ago when women of Central Asia were adorned with an armoury of jewellery. The 60 pieces in a dozen glass cases are part of a thousand items collected over the past 20 years by the Kazakstan assets management company, Almaly. Identifying the tribes and regions from Western Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgystan, these ornaments, of silver and gold, coral, carnelian, turquoise, pearl and mother-of-pearl weighed heavily on women both old and young. Also on show are kaftans and embroidered robes from Bukhara, and filigree belts worn by Crimean Tatars.
The items are not labelled, so visitors must flick through the accompanying £45 bilingual catalogue provided to explain what each one was for, what it is made of and where it is from. It also explains the jewellery’s social role – after the age of 40, women tended to wear much less jewellery. The catalogue also has photographic portraits, the earliest from 1876, and the latest from a 2013 shoot by the London-based Russian photographer, Sasha Gusov. In black and white, these portraits of contemporary bejewelled women are blown up and framed around Asia House’s basement gallery. The exhibition continues until May 12.
Pictured here, left to right: late 19th-century Yomud silver hair ornament (asyk) from Turkmenistan; silver, gilt and coloured glass breast ornament from Western Kazakhstan; and a 19th-century silver gilt button (tuime) from Kazakhstan.