Nailya Galyavieva – "Home is the spirit within"

since March 2021


The international association of Tatar women “HANIM” has been organising online classes since January 2021. Tatar women living in different countries meet online and learn the specifics of crafts in different directions. The workshop on appliqué with fabric is led by Nailya Aminovna Galyavieva, a painter, honoured artist of Tatarstan and teacher of decorative and applied arts.

We present our interview with Ms Galyavieva about creativity and her works collected from pieces of fabric.

Interview with Ms Galyavieva:

Alsu Rahimova: Nailya Hanim, there are plans to hold several workshops under your guidance. The first online class is over. What was your impression of this meeting?

Nailya Galyavieva: I had the impression that we communicated like friends who have known each other for a long time. I felt the interest in the ladies who joined the course, the desire to learn national ornaments. I liked their attempts to learn Tatar culture in this respect. Later, in a joint chat, the results of the work were photographed and discussed. I also marked them. I think the women were genuinely excited with this handicraft. I was very happy about it. That is, we have started a necessary project.

А. R.: In the past, our grandmothers tried to demonstrate their individuality and skill through embroidery and wanted to add beauty to the surroundings in this way. Now it is easy to find beautiful designs and original items in shops. Nevertheless, the craft is not losing its relevance. Specialty supermarkets and leisure shops offer a wide range of materials and tools for hobbies in different fields. Why is needlework still relevant today?

N. G: Life is hard at the moment. That’s why more and more people are starting to take an interest in creativity. It often happens that parents had no time, no possibility to take their child to art school in time. But the dream has remained. As an adult, one has already found one’s place in life. You want to draw, but you don’t know how. That’s how many come to the workshops.

Another reason is that creativity is like psychotherapy. When you are engaged in it, you go completely into your work and forget the world, it is a kind of relaxation. It’s not about creating a work of art or achieving professionalism, you can also be satisfied with a simple level. I think the most important thing is to be able to treat yourself, to help yourself.

А. R.: Really, this direction is very popular in Germany as art therapy. As you said, it is not about creating a work of art, but to focus on the inner to improve the emotional state. You can open your heart freely in creativity. Many may seek harmony with the help of handwork.

We know you as the author of the numerous fabric panels, which are interesting and familiar to many. You mentioned in the workshop that you have been working on this kind of creativity for more than 30 years. You create an image by gluing pieces of fabric to the base. What was the history of the creation of this technique? How did you find your style?

N. G.: I was born in the city. According to my mother, when I was two months old, she took me to my grandmother in the village because maternity leave was very little. I was looked after by my grandmother in the Tatar village ever since. Even later I spent a lot of time there – school holidays, also student internships. It is a very small village, but it has a history and famous people in Tatar culture who come from here.

So I grew up in this village and learned to speak Tatar and to work in the countryside. I heard Tatar songs there. The Tatar folk festival Sabantuy was always celebrated very beautifully. Let’s just say all these experiences have stayed with me like luggage. When I entered art school, I wanted to work on many themes about this simple village and show the beauty and life of the Tatar village.

In the beginning, I made dolls in Tatar clothes. Then at some point it occurred to me that the dolls could do something – a woman carrying water or a granny sitting at a spinning wheel. I started making the whole thing out of cardboard and then gluing it onto wooden panel. That’s how unexpectedly my panel technology was born.

In my head, themes appeared one after the other, as if the tap had been opened! Everything I saw in the village when I was young: for example, grandmothers gossiping near the well – they discuss all the news. There were many subjects to show. An art scholar noticed that I was taking a new direction in the art of applied design. There is no other master in this technique that I work with.

Gulnur Dautova: Didn’t your colleagues criticise you for using cardboard or glue? Didn’t they say that this is not a Tatar traditional style, that you should embroider instead of glue?

N. G: There was no such criticism. This is a different technology. It is not possible to embroider or sew hard paper. I use other technology to show embroidery. I can spend a month in shops looking for the fabric I need – with elements similar to the edge of the tablecloth. I buy this fabric only for this part. Carefully cut and appliqué. This is how the border is created. That is my know-how. There are no negative comments and my colleagues only wonder about it.

G. D: A month ago we were into conservative, traditional needlework – embroidery and spent classes in tambour, plain embroidery. Now we are going in a more modern direction. I think it is a modern style.

N. G.: We think both Tatar and modern. I also talk about this with my students. I tell them you find pictures on the internet and show them. If you want, you could also find time for creativity, for thinking things out. Our ancestors didn’t study anywhere, didn’t go to art schools. But what beauty, aesthetics and design you see in the monuments and patterns left by them. They invented all this, the people who lived in the countryside.

G. D.: When I start looking for a Tatar ornament, I see that Tatar patterns are more related to flowers, plants. I look for something new. Then they say it’s not Tatar decoration. If we look at your fabric panels, although this is not traditional Tatar art, it is made with the Tatar hand, the Tatar sense. And you show in your creative works in your own way your experiences, your memories. It is very interesting for us European Tatar women.

А. R.: Even if we only mention the names of the panels you created, it becomes cosy: “My grandmother’s lullaby”, “My mother’s flowers”, “Sweet milk”, “Drinking tea”, “After the bath”, “Neighbours”… How do you create your colourful paintings?

N. G.: It is a correspondence of the material with the images in the soul. The right choice of fabric is very important. If successful, the fabric panel starts to work. The combination of idea and fabric creates a harmony that can evoke a feeling in the viewer. I create according to my own thoughts, I don’t like to repeat other people. I process memories. On paper you can do what you want. But materials like fabric, cardboard, boards have their own requirements. Application is a generalisation of form.

Both ideas and panels are born differently. For example, I saw a very beautiful fabric with lace in the shop and an image came to my mind. It reminded me of a frozen window. So I depicted an ice cream seller frozen in the cold weather, her cart and, to make the situation even sadder, a frozen black cat with her. That’s how themes are born, either I see an interesting material or I remember the experiences in youth.

G. D.: Seeing your works, it is safe to say that the author is Nailya Galavieva. Is your style unique?

N. G.: Not only in Tatarstan, but also in Russia there is no other artist who depicts Tatar theme in this way. Many artists have opened the Tatar theme – Ildar Zaripov, Kharis Yakupov and many others. Commenting on my style, Robert Minnullin said: “Humour is generally considered a masculine quality. There is a generous, warm wit in Nailya’s work”. I have no serious panels. Robert Minnullin wrote 17 poems when he saw my work.

А. R.: What kind of feelings does creativity, craft give? Can it make people happy?

N. G.: I am happy with my work. I went through many difficulties, this creativity helped me, it still gives energy. Life is hard now. You go home and sit with it, forget the world and enjoy it. There is no time to be frustrated.

А. R.: There are always two authors of a work, the first is the creator, the second is the reader or the spectator. Your works are exhibited not only in Tatarstan, but also in Russia and abroad. What kind of comments do you get from your viewers? 

N. G: Many say that we have returned to our childhood, saw our grandmother and ate her warm cake. It is often said that we also had such a patchwork quilt and a grandmother’s box. So my audience can refresh their childhood memories. My works contain many details that make you think and dream.

А. R.: Really, beautifully stacked cushions, galoshes with red inside, spoiled cat, children waiting for the cake from the oven, women chatting over tea – these are all the usual situations and types that are familiar to many. How does the room change when such an original mural appears there, what feeling is added to the place? Have you perhaps observed it?

N. G.: My cousin, to whom I gave several paintings, sent them all to the house in the village, supposedly it doesn’t match her new white walls. Another cousin has a fabric panel of mine and it hangs in its own place in her modern flat. She just says, “Every time I look at it, it reminds me of grandma”. Such different perception.

А. R.: For children, toys with different surfaces, made of different materials are recommended to develop fine motor skills, finger feeling. When I saw your fabric panel “Delicious Milk”, I had the desire to finger-paint it.

N. G.: I have already got used to it, at all exhibitions older and younger people have the same desire. I teach decorative and applied composition at the art school. We make dolls by hand. Most of the children often go online, often using only their heads, eyes and ears. First with difficulty, but then with interest, the children come to make things. In exhibitions, children often ask what the faces and hands are made of.

А. R.: At this point I would like to quote the Tatar poet Robert Minnullin again: “Every exhibition of Nailya reminds one of a Tatar house.” One group of your paintings shows the interior – the house, of which a pleasant calm – order and consent – is enveloped. This is what the viewer feelings you mentioned speak about; one quickly senses the house harmony in your murals. And the title you gave your exhibition is “The Warmth of the Parental Home”. Beautiful words.

N. G.: It also has its own history. The first president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Sharipovich Shaymiyev, received my painting “Lullaby” as a birthday present. The president looked at everything carefully, admired with what respect and love the young artist had shown the village. He himself is a country child, loves the village. He gave me his book as a present. That’s where these words came from.

I liked these words very much. The word “house” can be understood in a broader sense. It is not just a house with four walls, it is a home – it is the spirit inside. Only we Tatars can know the value of our culture – our language, food, dancing. When I was growing up, there was no Tatar language in town. I asked my mother why she didn’t speak Tatar to me. Only Russian was spoken both in kindergarten and at school. Only when I lived in this village did I learn the Tatar language. Just as I can draw beautifully, I want to speak Tatar perfectly, it is my dream. I speak Tatar with my heart.

А. R.: In a deeper sense, a house is a world of its own. Everyone wants their home to be a safe, peaceful and happy place. In your life, who were the people who created the warmth of the house?

N. G.: My grandmother – my father’s mother. Although I didn’t see my grandfather, I always heard good words about him, he was a very kind person. He could speak Russian, Tatar, Mari. And grandma was kind, generous. I miss her very much because I grew up with her. I was the first grandchild. I grew up with her love, there were so many people around me who loved me, I always felt the warmth of the sun’s rays.

А. R.: When I saw your fabric panels, the image of grandma was the closest and most resonant to me. Planting geraniums, knitting woollen socks – are already the main hobby of our grandmothers. Many of us have warm memories associated with grandparents. Grandparents like the child differently.

N. G.: Grandparents are guardians of our traditions and values, of the Tatar spirit. My mother used to say, “Daughter, why do you put stuffed socks on the grandmas in your pictures as if they were poor?” And I explained, “Mum, I’m not showing poverty, this is thrift”.

Often Tatars are depicted straight and simplified – the kalfaq, the chak-chak, the leather boots. On the other hand, I deeply show the peculiarities of the Tatar character. Grandmothers sit and drink tea. How are they dressed? Socks with a stain on the foot. This is cautiousness. They drink tea slowly and leave the table only when the samovar is emptied. It is not laziness, they do their work in proper time. But they also need communication. That is a feature of the village, there is no hurry, no rush there. So I introduce the characteristics of the national mind with humour, either through the elements of the dress or through the actions of my characters. That is my credo.

А. R.: Yes, in this way you show the characteristics of the Tatar mentality, the secrets of harmony and balance. You have already mentioned what beauty, what design you see in the heritage of the people – in the decorative patterns. These ornaments have not only beauty but also symbolic meanings. When did you start to learn about this mysterious world of Tatar folk ornaments?

N. G.: When I started working at the school. Children feel good with the teacher, if he is not very professional, they are not interested. Children need a person with deep knowledge. I teach them a subject today, students absorb it and tomorrow they need new information. I prepared new material for each lesson. So I started searching on my own. For more than 40 years I have been constantly searching for new knowledge.

I started collecting learning material when I started teaching applied arts. It was a time when many Tatar grammar schools were opened and a lot of attention was paid to the Tatar language. There were two drawing lessons a week. Together with the art of the peoples of the world, we taught the youth national art and national ornaments. This lesson is a lesson in aesthetics and personality. The children I taught have already become parents themselves, and when I meet them, they remember the drawing lessons with warmth, and also the times when it helped them in life.

А. R.: I recently heard in a video that the teaching system in today’s school favours completely logical sciences and the status of the lessons that promote the child’s creativity is lower. That is, one half of the human brain is active and the aspect responsible for creativity and imagination is hardly implemented or developed. Finally, we strive to live as a single, harmonious individual. In this way we return to the beginning of today’s conversation – you can find a healing, an inspiration, a life force by creating something with your imagination, something with your hands. Human capacities are rich.

During the masterclass you mentioned that the decoration we made was a heart – a solar sign that reminds us to be open to the world. The ancients understood this quality as a value and tried to convey this very meaning through ornaments passed down from generation to generation. It was very much in line with what my grandmother said – to be open to a person, to greet people with a smile, to respect. Do we today need the philosophy of life that our grandmothers created in their homes?

N. G.: From this philosophy, the lifestyle, the cultural traits, our mentality – the world view – is created. We have to transmit that to the children, to the grandchildren, so that they see it and grow up. After all, it’s not about knowing the symbolic meaning of jewellery, but about decorating the soul. About norms, about what is considered the norm. I grew up in a village and absorbed these meanings. We grew up with such views, our children already think differently. When they get older, I think they will be interested, although they are indifferent now. And if we do nothing from now on, the thread on the spinning wheel will break. That means there will be no more knitted woollen socks. Because in such things is our soul, our knowledge of the world. That must remain.

I think the village is like a grandmother’s box – a place where traditions are preserved. The village plays an important role in the development of the nation and the people. The city is a space where everything is mixed together. My cousins also say, “Sister Nailya, the village is so deep in your heart, even we don’t like it that much, though we were born and raised here.” When I grew up in the village, I loved the village. My mission is to develop and inherit these actions, these motifs into works.

G. D.: The purpose of organising this master class or even other projects is to unite and connect us. We continue to develop and broaden our horizons. What do you wish for Tatar women living in Europe, far away from their homeland?

N. G.: To continue to be interested in your national culture, to read, not to stop. Developing thinking through finger sensitivity is not only important for children, but also for us. Creativity strengthens self-confidence and develops as an individual, gives a sense of satisfaction. We preserve the thread of generations by creating Tatar national crafts and paintings. It is necessary to maintain a connection with the homeland in various ways.

This is our duty. I show these traditions, for example, through my fabric panels. But I don’t know what the future holds for my paintings. If the panels are bought individually, the “warmth of the home” collection will fall apart. I want it to be kept in a museum collection as a whole. There is no one who works in this technique. My works show the village through the heart.

А. R.: The women in the association “HANIM” are very different and all live in different countries. We are connected through interest in our roots. Tatar culture, the Tatar thread connects us. The warmth of the house we talked about today is current for all women, regardless of their nationality. Humour, creativity bring energies and help in life. Our customs, specialities and speech are also a kind of creativity in the broadest sense. Thank you for your answers, which reflect your view of the world as an artist, teacher and lady with life experience. We look forward to the next workshop and continue to hope that the knowledge and techniques you teach will inspire us.

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