Tush Kyiz ( pronounced tush keys, literally “wall embroideries”) are large (6’ x 12’), elaborately embroidered wall hangings that were hung inside the yurts of Kyrgyzstan to symbolize the family’s pride in their heritage and Kyrgyz culture. Elder women of the tribe, who had become masters “saimachy” of Tush Kyiz embroidery, would spend months and perhaps years to create one as a gift for a son or daughter’s marriage. The Tush Kyiz would be hung in the “red corner” of the yurt (red for good luck and fertility), and would be a blessing to them for happiness in their marriage and pride in their culture.
Tush Kyiz designs illustrate some of the ideals of the Kyrgyz people: fertility is very important, and nurturing is prized. It is important to cherish the young, live in joy and appreciation of life, have a happy marriage, strive toward goals, achieve spiritual power, and live in balance and harmony.
A Tush Kyiz wall hanging would be the first thing a visitor sees upon entering the Yurt. Every yurt family was proud of their tush kyiz—whose designs, symbols and colors revealed the originality and imagination of the Kyrgyz people. Saimachy interpreted aspects of nomadic life and their spiritual beliefs, including a desire for protection, prosperity, fertility, and balance. They are often dated and signed by the artist. Each one is the saimachy’s vision of her culture and her personal interpretation. Each creation is unique.
A Tradition Is Lost
Displaying the family Tush Kyiz was an honored tradition when the Kyrgyz people were nomads, from 800 AD to the 1920s. When they became Soviet citizens, their nomadic life was over and the Kyrgyz were forcibly settled onto collective farms. The Soviet ideal was to eliminate ethnic traditions and mold the people into modern Soviet citizens. Ethnic arts were ridiculed as hopelessly old-fashioned and unworthy of a citizen’s time and effort. After 50 years of Sovietization—by the 1970s—the art of creating Tush Kyiz was entirely abandoned. These historic pieces have not been made for 40 years.