Londoners can get a glimpse into the Orient in the heart of one of city's biggest mixed use urban spaces. Strolling through the pop-up Silk Road Bazaar, The National watched on as people marvelled at the striking wares from territories that have been largely unreachable over the past year.
A stone’s through from Regent’s Canal where barges once unloaded their goods, it is a fitting location for the exotic imports on display.
Stalls parade a vivid range of craftsmanship, including Ottoman-inspired silks from Turkey, textiles and handmade jewellery from Pakistan, leather accessories from Egypt, and colourful Uzbek hats.
The artisan vendors are selling goods from countries along the historic Silk Road trading route.
Supported by the Aga Khan Foundation, the bazaar was staged to compliment the similarly themed open-air photography exhibition currently featured in nearby Granary Square in London’s Kings Cross.
Silk Road: A Living History documents photographer Christopher Wilton-Steer's 40,000km journey along the world's oldest trade route. Comprised of over 160 photographs, the exhibition invites viewers to take a journey from London to Beijing.
"I wanted to photograph the people, places and cultures in between, and to look at the variety of different cultural expressions, architecture, art, design culture and to really present a pretty diverse picture about the Silk Road historically, but also what it's like today," Mr Wilton-Steer told The National at the bazaar.
At a time of limited travel, he said he hoped the exhibition would provide visitors with an escape from the UK into other worlds.
“It’s like when you travel and you go and you want to take a bit of that local heritage back with you so I always felt that the market for these products was international and so the big hope is that this will be a success and people will like it.”
As will hopefully also the vendors, one of those being S Jo, a hand-crafted jewellery made by traditional craftswomen in Pakistan. The accessories brand was founded 10 years ago by Seher Mirza as part of her PhD design research at the Royal College of Art in London. The social enterprise is committed to empowering village-based women artisans of stitch-craft.
“The idea was to do design workshops and have a creative space for women and myself, and then just create different products,” said Mirza, whose label has been sold at the V&A and Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.
The bazaar is a pilot project but both organisers and vendors say there’s scope for it to happen more regularly.
Classically trained calligrapher Soraya Syed told The National it was an important way of communicating to the public.
“The beauty of culture in the Middle East is very important to me because often in the media it's very negative. So this is our way of balancing that and showing the other side especially as we've been in lockdown for so long,” said Syed at her stall, Art of the Pen.
Like many among the bustling crowd she was ‘delighted’ at the physical human interaction after a year of lockdowns.
After studying Arabic in Egypt the British artist of French and Pakistani heritage learned the traditional Islamic penmanship in Turkey and has been exhibited in several exhibitions as well as live calligraphy performances. She also created a mobile phone app called Nuqta, which creates a social-led archive of Arabic calligraphy.
Under the auspices of the global Aga Khan Development Network, the UK-based foundation arm is one of the best-known international development organisations to partner with communities across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The Silk Road Bazaar is on at Canopy Market from Friday 11th June until Sunday 13th June.
The Silk Road: A Living History exhibition runs until September.