The Kashgar Philosophy

 

The jewellery, handicrafts and textiles that Kashgar offers for sale are authentic handmade items.  This means the pieces were originally made by and to be used by the people who made them or were handmade for us using traditional methods of construction.  Not every item that we sell is an antique: the majority of our items are between 40 and 140 years old, however many are new or were made within the last decade.  Where ever possible accurate approximate ages are given by us in the notes accompanying an item.

A Bontoc tribal woman from the Phillipines

A Bontoc tribal woman poses for a photograph on the rice terraces of Banuae.  She wears a dog tooth necklace, a sun hat made of fronds and her arms are heavily tatooed to indicate her status withing the tribe.  The three boxes of matches she holds in her hands are payment for the photograph - she is otherwise forced to buy such luxuries in the local village and is charged an extortionate price for these basic necessities.

 

As we enter the 21st Century, the world grows smaller and communication channels open while borders simultaneously close.   Traditional ways of living are ending and many of the world's minority and ethnic cultures are unprepared for life in the new millennium.   In accepting superior aspects of the modern world such as health, education advances and women's rights, communities are often forced to accept the less desirable aspects, including the three worst: begging, prostitution and servitude to warlords.  By maintaining traditional means of handicraft, jewellery and textile production and by selling directly to the western world via dealers like us, tribal communities, particularly the women (customary custodians of family and tribal cultural tradition) are empowered financially and psychologically and can make informed decisions about which parts of the west they want to incorporate and which they want to reject.  The other great benefit of maintaining traditional methods of handicraft and textile manufacture is that these communities have for the most part evolved to live in synchronicity and harmony with their environment.  As a result environmental sustainability and stability is maintained without the imposition of elaborate and expensive management plans by external authorities.

In line with this philosophy there must be a simultaneous recognition by the West that handicrafts made in this manner will cost more, will not necessarily be made to fit western tastes and will be rarer than items mass produced in Chinese factories and Asian sweatshops.  The beauty of these items lies in their individuality, their irregularities and their imperfections.  When you hold them in your hands or gaze upon them in your home you are engaging in a form of time travel.  The sense of peace, harmony and wellbeing that they bestow cannot easily be described.  By supporting this philosophy we can all actively help to maintain the diversity of our planet and ensure that the unique nature of these communities and their traditions will endure into the next millennium.

shaman in Darjeeling

A tribal shaman walks the streets of Darjeeling, offering his religious services as needed

These are our products and this is our philosophy

 

Antiques v's Vintage Pieces

By definition, an antique must be over 100 years old.  Vintage is the term most commonly used to describe items that are younger than 100 years.   Many of the items in our collections fall into this latter category, but can still be regarded as "antique" in the sense of their comparative value.

A southern Chinese mid 19th century medicine chest in need of restoration.  The pieces that we buy are often in this condition; once carefully restored, the diference is amazing and an antique piece of furniture is returned to the world. Left in China where such furniture is poorly valued, the piece would eventually be broken up as firewood or left to rot behind it's owner's house.

 

Consider for example the life of a French 18th century ormolu occasional table and that of a Tekke Turkoman sideboard. The French antique has likely spent its life being coddled and maintained in optimum environmental conditions, loving repaired by master craftsmen when necessary and used only in the most sparing of senses, perhaps to support a clock or ornament.   Its pedigree is known as is its history of ownership.   In comparison the tribal piece cannot easily be aged.  It has lived a hard life with a family of nomads, exposed to a harsh prairieland environment during the family's annual migration and housed within a smoke-filled yurt at other times.  It has been handed down from generation to generation within the family because wood is rare in this part of the world; repairs are always carried out locally or in the home.  Decoration in the form of carving and paint may be added at various times according to the prevailing taste and modifications carried out as the family grows in size and their needs change.  Eventually the family gives up it's nomadic lifestyle and settles in a town and the sideboard is sold to a dealer to help pay for the construction of a permanent house.  From that point onwards its history is generally lost.  It's described to future buyers only as "very old" and sometimes its specific tribal origins are forgotten.  To the collector it is as valuable as the French table.  However, without provenance the piece may not necessarily be considered an antique in the Western world.  The upside of this is that tribal antiques are often much more affordable than their European counterparts.  The downside is that they tend not to appreciate as quickly in value.

The same principal applies to textiles. Because of wear and tear textiles naturally undergo, a cloth may be considered quite old at the age of twenty or thirty years.  A textile in perfect condition is ideal, but old pieces that have been well loved and used may bring a deeper pleasure to the collector.

When buying ethnographic and tribal pieces for yourself, the first rule is to buy items that you love, that speak to you, that you will enjoy looking at (or wearing) every day.  But if you are buying for a collection or to make a profit, prepare by learning and verifying as much information as you can.  Visit museums and exhibitions, read relevant publications, articles and documents, and examine in person as many pieces as possible via dealers and private collectors. This will help you to develop your own knowledge base and range of experience.  Don't be afraid to ask questions - dealers, curators and collectors are usually happy to share their hard-won information and knowledge.  Watch the Antique Roadshow for a fascinating overview of antique and curio collecting and haunt auction houses on viewing days when they are auctioning relevant collections (Buyer Beware: do not bid for items until you feel you have the expertise to make an informed bid!).  If you do your homework, collecting antiques and tribal artifacts can be an extremely rewarding experience.   Remember, a piece is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it, whether it is an exquisitely carved 17th century Italian statue or a crudely fashioned Nepalese ancestral figure.  Each has been equally cherished by their former makers and owners and each has a place in our modern world.

 

Collecting and Collections

tribal jewelry

A collection consists of a group of objects sharing a particular theme or basis of form, and may include such diverse examples as art, cars, Barbie dolls, headhunter curios, baseball cards, movie posters, coins, porecelian figures, jewellery or travel sourveniers.  Often the rationale behind a collection is clear, however sometimes a collector will have no idea whey they resonate with a particular kind of object.   I've met a 7 year old boy who is a collector and maker of walking sticks, King Louis XVI of France collected and made iron locks (completely out of keeping with the perceived character of a king), while I personally collect tribal knives.  Owning and augmenting a collection can give a deep sense of personal satisfaction and fulfill the need for order, acquisition and accomplishment at a very primal level.

Regarding the collectability of specific kinds of objects and the creation of a collection, the first thing to remember is that not every piece in your collection need be old.   By the very act of "collecting", you are removing pieces from the cycle of creation, use and destruction, and preserving them for future generations to enjoy and admire.  The age of the piece is often immaterial unless you are collecting within a specific period or time frame. Keep notes on where and when you bought an item and from whom, as well as any information about the piece available at the time of purchase.  This information is known as the "provenance" of an item and will greatly increase your enjoyment of the collection and its future value.

When collecting, choose something that you like.   There is no point in collecting teaspoons if you have no particular feeling for them.   If your grandmother leaves you her prize assortment of post-industrial-communist ceramic pigs that leaves you feeling cold, it's better to sell it off to someone who does want it and use the money to start up a collection of something you really like.

Finally, any collection is worth more as a collection. This may sound simplistic, however it is a basic tenant of collecting.   Do not be tempted to sell off individual pieces, or at least consider selling in sets if you do.

The best place for purchasing, collecting and learning about ethnographic and tribal art and artifacts is through a gallery or store that specializes in such objects.   With experience, real finds can be made at auctions and from garage and boot sales or privately sold items through newspapers or classified ads, but these are pleasures better left to the experienced.   Museums are excellent resources for learning about art and increasing your appreciation and experience levels, as are books of al kinds.  Destination traveling is another potentially rewarding source of original antiques, but remember that the world is full of fake artifacts and dishonest rug salesmen, and you also have to get the piece home and through Customs at the end of the day.  Be prepared to make mistakes and remember if you love something, then its worth whatever you paid for it.