Seventh Heaven is a unique organisation founded in 2015 in Bishkek by four very different people who had different backgrounds yet were united by a single goal: to revive, preserve and adapt the traditional Kyrgyz culture to the modern world.
Gulmira Kutuyeva is an artist and designer, holder of traditional knowledge, and researcher of customs and traditions. Bermet Tursalieva studied journalism and international comparative politics and worked in major international organisations; currently she is the head of a branding agency. Aibek Baiymbetov is a historian and researcher. Mirrakhim Oposh is a designer and philosophy teacher.
Friends, colleagues, and likeminded people, they jokingly call each other “inhabitants of heaven.”
“As a child, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother, tai ene. She had this very deep connection with nature. Every summer, mum sent us, the kids, to the village. There, we would rise early and work hard on the land, after which we would run to the river and swim. In the village, we got to eat real food cooked over an open fire; we could see how the food was made and how the fire was built up. I remember I once got sick, and my granny took me to sacred places, she performed some of her rituals and whispered some words.
Later, when I got married, I also learned a lot from my husband’s grandmother, she was just a fairy! She passed a lot of traditional knowledge to me.
All of this had influenced me greatly and eventually shaped the foundation for my perception of the world, of myself and my roots.
After a long career of a PR specialist in large-scale development projects at organisations like UN, I deliberately left to work in the field of agricultural development, because to me, the word organic implied a state of mind and a certain level of consciousness. We wanted to raise people’s awareness and to revive respect for the earth. The source of knowledge for us was not the Internet, but the old-timers: they told us about how people used to live — it is all described in our legends and epics, in our folklore. Over time, this experience brought me to what I am doing now.
I am convinced that the traditional knowledge that helped our people survive for centuries is still very practical and powerful. And this culture must be preserved, it must be actively engaged, adapted, and integrated into all spheres of life. My business today is built on the traditional knowledge. I have a branding agency Ormon that is aimed at building an image of Kyrgyzstan not as merely a food producer but a nation that has a deep traditional culture, a country that stands at the crossroads of two civilisations: European and nomadic.”
“I believe that everything that is created by the hands of the master is magic, and I have always wanted to become a magician ever since I was little. I would close my eyes and see the world amazingly beautiful: the mountains covered with colourful flowers, the river running high, the sky as deep as the ocean and the clouds as soft as cotton. And so, my dream came true: I began to create. After receiving two degrees in Arts, I started to work in the field of craft. Implementation of various craft art projects is something I have been doing my whole conscious life.
We are living in times of rapid development of technology, and in this process a lot of what was created by our lovely grandparents and great grandparents is being lost, our roots are being lost, and people tend to forget where they came from. And seeing that, we cannot stay away: we want to revive our rich culture, customs and traditions.”
“It was the team’s decision to start our organisation. We all come from different backgrounds, but it somehow happened that we united as people of similar views, similar mindset and similar sense of humour.”
“Aibek and Mirrakhim have known each other since they were kids. Aibek also took Gulmira eje’s* art class for children when they lived in Karakol. But together, four of us became friends about seven years ago when we started to actively engage with each other. In 2015, Gulmira, Mirrakhim and I went to the Surajkund International Crafts Mela in India. At that festival, we saw how other nations, especially India, presented their traditional culture and how exciting it was. We realised that India is extremely diverse and that there are dozens of different traditional cultures within it that together shape the rich concept of India that the world sees.
*Eje is an honourific reference to a woman in Kyrgyzstan [literally translated from Kyrgyz as ‘older sister’]
Having come back home, we decided we had to create something similar here and we had to do it wisely: not in pieces but in a comprehensive and balanced way. That was the moment when we came up with the idea of the intellectual cultural union and the studio Seventh Heaven. We wanted to use the space to demonstrate our unique and intriguing traditional culture not only to the outer world but also to the world inside Kyrgyzstan.
A traditional culture begins with rituals: the way a mother greets her children, the way she cooks, the way a woman introduces a girl to the mysteries of womanhood: how to be a mother, how to be a wife, how to live in harmony with nature and the environment. We demonstrate how, using all this traditional knowledge, one can live in this world, the modern world, without escaping to the mountains or wearing rags, how to remain a modern person while skillfully applying traditional knowledge to all areas of life. And in our team, we are entirely immersed in what we do — with all responsibility.
We have been friends for a while, and because we resonate with each other so well, we always feel really good together, and every time we gather, we are in seventh heaven. That is why we decided to name our studio Seventh Heaven: so that everyone feels just as good here, so that everyone feels inspired.”
“We create an environment where our friends and guests can feel calm, warm and creative. We are agents bringing together the traditional narratives into a single movement. Our mission is to inspire the present by reviving the past.”
“The key principle of any traditional culture is in the harmony of the triunity: the sky, the human, and the earth. A human must live in harmony with the sky, the earth and self. For centuries, people’s lifestyle rested on a single concept: living in harmony with all four elements and using them rationally. Our mission is to communicate this idea to those who live now, to those who are growing up, and to those who will live.”
“We have a very extensive training programme; we have developed courses on traditional skills and techniques. We carry out various short-term master classes, as well as long-term courses.
We have had over five thousand trainees and interns, who enjoyed the endless imagination that crafts unravel. These are mainly girls and women whom I taught various craft techniques.
We make all kinds of products: from smaller items like souvenirs, to large interior pieces. Souvenirs include toys, dolls, animal figures, gifts, postcards, etc. We also make hats, accessories, jewellery, and clothes. As for the interior products, that includes rugs, shyrdaks*, ala kiyiz*, tush kiyiz*, and handmade curtains. In our work, we apply traditional techniques and use natural materials like silk, linen, cotton, and wool.
*Shyrdak is a traditional Kyrgyz stitched felt rug
* Ala kiyiz is a traditional Kyrgyz rug or wall hanging made by pressing felt
*Tush-kyiz is a large embroidered wall hanging, traditional to the craft of Kyrgyzstan
What we are doing now and will continue to do in the future is very important: educating the youth, reviving, preserving and passing down the traditional knowledge to future generations.”
“Gulmira eje is our main holder of traditional knowledge, and we, the younger generation, all learn from her, we then adapt, develop and pass the knowledge further.
For instance, now we have a course called The Power of Family through Tush Kiyiz. Tush kiyiz is considered a part of family heritage because it is used to transmit the knowledge, the culture and the rituals of the family. A tush kiyiz is usually made by a mother for her daughters, and sometimes for sons and grandchildren too. The woman encodes her message and her wishes to the future generations into the embroidery. Our Gulmira eje is one of the rare experts in folk ornamental studies who can read those messages. The audience of this course in our studio is mainly elderly urban women who are now trying to catch up with the knowledge that they did not have a chance to obtain as young women because of the Soviet regime at that time. Younger girls and students take this class too. We also have a lot of foreigners amongst our clients: people who work in Kyrgyzstan and take interest in local traditions, they are keen on finding connections between their traditional cultures and ours.”
“The uniqueness of the nomadic culture is that it provides two main conditions for sustainable development. The first condition is the moral climate through traditional values, and the second is preservation of the natural environment and ecosystems with a spiritual approach.”
“The biggest source of inspiration in my work is the nature that surrounds us: our beautiful sky-high mountains, the trees dancing in the wind, the rivers running high, the birds singing, and even heavily loaded ants that delight my eye and inspire me with their hard work.”
“We created our studio to help people find the answers to their questions: who am I? where do I come from? We want to help them, upon receiving the answers, become more confident and stronger, to help them interact with the outer world.
After all, we have the same roots: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan — we all share certain rituals, traditional practices, culture, and we can share them with each other. We would like to show it all and share it with the world. We want the world to know that for instance, the Manas is not just an epic, not merely a book of poems but an entire philosophy, a benchmark of enlightenment and consciousness for every person who is engaged in their spiritual growth. The Manas is such a philosophy, a principle of life that has no ceiling: it is an endless subject for research. From the Manas, one can seamlessly flow into spiritual practices of other nations: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and virtually to all corners of the world. And through our studio, through our ideas and activities, we want to communicate these messages to the world.”