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Close-up on two hands touching raised needlework in turquoise and orange on a dark gray textile background.

Botagoz Zeinelkhan’s bizkeste embroidery

Photo by Aleksei Malchenko

  • Soul of Tengri: Smithsonian Artisan Initiative Pop-Up at Smithsonian Folklife Festival

    The Smithsonian Artisan Initiative is pleased to announce the upcoming program Soul of Tengri: Kazakh Traditions and Rituals (Tánir Álemi), presented with support from Chevron. Between July 6 and 11, the initiative’s first-ever pop-up program celebrates crafts of Kazakhstan at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C.

    Soul of Tengri gathers a community of eight Kazakh artisans who will engage audiences in discussions about the preservation and transmission of their craft from one generation to another—within their home country and to Kazakh diaspora in the United States. The craft traditions represented by these artisans include traditional embroidery, felting, weaving, wood carving, and musical instrument making.

    “We are delighted to partner with the Smithsonian on the Soul of Tengri program,” said Yerkin Zikibayev, corporate affairs manager for Chevron’s Eurasia Business Unit. “Chevron is committed to supporting cultural diversity and fostering artistic expressions globally. Through this initiative, we aim to celebrate and promote the rich heritage of Kazakhstan while facilitating meaningful exchanges between Kazakh artisans and the international community.”

    In 2020, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage initiated a partnership with the Union of Artisans in Kazakhstan, Chevron, and the U.S. Department of State in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to bring together Kazakh and American artists of the same craft traditions to share their experiences. Working with Kazakh youth to encourage their involvement in cultural and creative industries, the Center facilitated a virtual and in-person maker workshop series titled Makerspace Expands! The workshops aimed to support participating emerging artists to build relationships, expand their international network, and work collaboratively through craft. Soul of Tengri now draws on the success of this collaboration in Kazakhstan and the recently initiated Artisan in Residence program at the National Museum of Asian Art. 

    Soul of Tengri draws on Kazakhstan’s rich history of nomadism,” says Halle Butvin, director of special projects at the Center. “While nomadism is longer a way of life, through demonstrations and workshops, the participating artisans will highlight the ways in which they’ve continued these traditions in contemporary cultural life.”

    Among the highlights of Soul of Tengri, Festival visitors can attend a collaboratively taught felting workshop by master artisans Janice Arnold and Aizhan Bekkulova. For the program’s close, the partners will present a fashion show on July 11, hosted in the National Museum of Asian Art’s Meyer Auditorium, featuring fashion designed and developed by the Union of Artisans.

    View the Soul of Tengri schedule at the Folklife Festival

    About Union of Artisans

    Established in April 2012, the Union of Artisans Kazakhstan operates across seven regions of the country. With ninety-two member organizations and 650 artisan collaborations nationwide, its primary mission is to preserve and promote traditional arts. Essential to safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, the union strives to enhance artisans’ living standards, foster professional growth, and support the development of craft businesses and the creative industry in Kazakhstan. Their flagship project, “Revival, preservation, support, and development of traditional crafts in Kazakhstan,” receives sponsorship from Chevron, UNESCO, and the Ministry of Culture, Kazakhstan.

    About Chevron

    Chevron is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies. We believe affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy is essential to enabling human progress. Chevron produces crude oil and natural gas; manufactures transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals, and additives; and develops technologies that enhance our business and the industry. We aim to grow our traditional oil and gas business, lower the carbon intensity of our operations and grow new lower carbon businesses in renewable fuels, hydrogen, carbon capture, offsets, and other emerging technologies.

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