A Cut Above the Rest
A newly opened gallery in London will place carpets—and this summer, Central Asian suzanis—at the heart of its programme. HALI Editor Ben Evans visits.
A visit to the Afridi Gallery in Royal Hospital Road, close to Sloane Square, is a journey to a quiet, discreet and exclusive part of Chelsea in west London, one that is well suited to style of the eponymous Shahbaz Afridi. Afridi has been a quietly active but steady carpet buyer at auctions in Europe for the past couple of decades, but until his gallery opened in 2017 it might not have been entirely clear to those beyond his immediate circle of regular designers and discerning clients exactly what he was selling and to whom.
When I visited the gallery, he was at the end of one exhibition of art photography, and in the process of planning his next: a show of Central Asian antique silk suzanis called ‘Gardens of Delight’, which opened on 7 June 2018 (until 5 July); hot on the heels of the Chelsea Flower Show, which takes place just a few hundred yards away in grounds of the Chelsea Royal Hospital.
The gallery displays furniture and objets d’art from well-known 20th-century sources such as the Italian architect and designer Carlo Mollino, Dutch designer Louis Kalff and Finnish designer Alvar Aalto, alongside other works that he makes with craftsmen based in the UK. This combination of traditional techniques with his own designs began with commissioning bespoke new carpets for the numerous design projects with which he is involved, and through his close association with interior designer Chester Jones and his wife, the rug designer Sandy Jones.
This context is the one into which he will introduce the traditional Uzbek suzanis in his next exhibition—an atmosphere that not only reflects an appreciation of quality in all things, whether old or new, but also the role that an individual object plays in a highly-curated interior. ‘Gardens of Delight’ will emphasise how suzanis are used and displayed, with the textiles presented among the gallery’s other three-dimensional objects, rather than as the flat-on canvases that they are seen as in most other gallery shows.
These colourful antique needleworks are an important part of the full-package inventory that Afridi offers. They are more likely to end up in homes where the embroidered drapes and covers are enjoyed more for their expressive energy and subtle charm than for being rare examples. A Bukhara latticework and a four-and-one Shahrisyabz, for instance, are both decorative and unusual.
Afridi tells me that when showing clients carpets in his nearby warehouse, suzanis have always attracted attention and become part of an interior through instinctive reactions from designers rather than initial intent. He has therefore always bought pieces when available. To that end, his gallery has allowed him to break cover with some of the pieces he has held back over time, boosted by the addition of a group from a private collection in London.