With natural resources and a rich history on the old Silk Road, Uzbekistan in recent years has established itself as an emerging market and a developing art center.
Published in ArtAsiaPacific magazine (UK), Issue 77, March/April, 2012
Author: Sara Raza
Tashkent, the capital, hosts the region's only international contemporary art biennial, launched in 2001 under the auspices of the Fund Forum, a cultural organization headed by president Islam Karimov's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova. Now in its sixth installment, the Tashkent International Biennale of Contemporary Art is celebrated under the umbrella of the international art and fashion event Style.Uz Art Week, and works as an important place for contemporary artists, curators and critics from the region to meet and engage with local and international art.
Tashkent is typical of many post-Soviet, Central Asian cities, where political ideologies and national identity have been played out through monumental architecture, fusing utopian ideals with vernacular traditions. Although the city suffered a damaging earthquake in the late 1960s, its civic buildings, schools and museums, following independence in 1991 were either torn down or renamed after great local rulers, scientists, philosophers and poets — such as 14th-century emperor Amir Temur, an epic statue of whom now looms over Tashkent's main square, or Ibn Sina, the 10th-century scientist born near Bukhara.
Uzbekistan shares borders with Farsi-speaking communities in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and has created opportunities for contemporary artists from these countries to work and exhibit in Tashkent. Many state-sponsored museums showcase antiquities and traditional crafts — especially textiles — throughout the city, such as the Central Showroom of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, the International Caravanserai, the now renovated Tashkent House of Photography, the Museum of Applied Art and the State Museum of Arts.
The principle institution is the Art Gallery of Uzbekistan (AGU), which, in addition to being one of the venues for the city's biennial, regularly showcases contemporary art exhibitions. With a commitment to bolstering the careers of younger artists, the venue also provides artist studios in its basement and hosts workshops with curators, though these remain limited and tend to be within the frame of the Tashkent Biennale. This year, the biennial's "Central Asian Salon" curated project made a conscious effort to unite artists from the region with their peers from the Caucasus and the Caspian area.
Influential Uzbek artists both at home and abroad include the late video and mixed-media artist Rustam Khalfin, a pioneer of contemporary art in Central Asia, as well as Said Atabekov, a mixed-media artist who now lives and works in Kazakhstan. Younger artists include Bobur Ismoilov, based in Tashkent and Paris, whose practice incorporates intricate drawings and paintings inspired by Central Asia's epic history. Diyor Razikov is a painter who creates contorted canvases that become visceral objects akin to sculpture. Recent trends include the emergence of a small group of recent art school graduates working with video.
The AGU has a five-year plan for education programs, residencies and solo shows by regional and international artists whose practices share a cultural affinity with Uzbekistan. The first phase will begin this summer, when Iranian embroidery artist Farhad Ahrarnia will take up the first artist's residency, which is sponsored by the British Uzbek Art, Culture and Business Forum. Ahrarnia plans to work with local craftspeople, the results of which will form her solo show at the AGU in October, coinciding with Uzbek Style Art Week, an annual international fashion showcase.
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