The ceramic master Ashur Mukhammad Mamasoliyev graduated from the department of monumental painting at the Tashkent State Institute of Art, but he worked in the field of ceramics and the plastics of small shapes. His first works followed the style of Uzbekistan’s traditional ceramic toy. These works already reveal the master’s desire to seek new means of artistic expression, although they did not bring him any creative satisfaction. He has made undoubted creative advances in the works produced over the past 3 – 4 years.
Mamasoliyev’s compositions are connected thematically with the customs and traditions of the Uzbek people. While still a child, he watched his mother and aunt sewing bedspreads from small pieces of material, choosing suitable scraps and making an original composition from them, or baking fine, reddish flatbread in clay ovens (such ovens still survive in the villages of Chimkent, Sayram (Karamury), Khonarik and Mankent, in Belyye Vody and in the village of Ikon in Turkestan. His child’s gaze was attracted by various people – jokers, good-natured people, lovers of tea-drinking, hunters, winegrowers looking after their young plants as though they were small children – who later became his inspiration and the characters for his works. Such were the origins of the works “Bedana ohangi” (“Tunes of the Quail”), “Eski tegirmon” (“The Old Mill”), “Askiya” (“The Wit”), “Sevgi kuyi” (“Melody of Love”) and “Kayf” (“Ecstasy”) (from motifs in Omar Khayyam).
The work “Shum bola” (“Mischievous Child”) also draws on childhood memories. He used the local children as models for the traits of character in his urchin boy. The result was the figure of a boy, created with a great sense of humour, in whose character generosity and stinginess, frankness and mendacity, liveliness and indolence, boldness and cowardliness were intertwined.
The love for his native land, which the master had nurtured since early childhood, was embodied in the “Bedanabozlar” (“Quail Lovers”) compositions. There are no bounds to the joy of the boy who is climbing up the thick trunk of an ancient tree. The feelings of his friends, sitting at the foot of the tree, and Qudrat-bobo are also skilfully portrayed.
Mamasoliyev’s passion for the clay toy was not a matter of chance and is largely explained by his interest in the work of Hamro-bibi, famous for her ceramic toys both inside and outside our country, an artist who had attained perfection in the craft. The artist created a number of new toys under the influence of her work.
In 1995, Mamasoliyev took part in the first republican exhibition of crafts in Tashkent, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the UN. It was here, among the works of the famed masters of the Bukharan school of ceramics, that the artist first saw the toys created by one of Hamro-bibi’s closest pupils, Qubaro-bibi. Ashur Mukhammad had discovered the traditions of the Bukharan toy.
The Bukharan school of ceramic art differs fundamentally from the other schools. Its main characters – fantastic figures of horses, elephants, donkeys and creatures with the heads of animals and the tails of birds – look natural and lifelike, evidently because of the actual material, white clay, from which they are fashioned, its texture and colour. The fact that the toys are hand-moulded makes each one unique. A number of works by Mamasoliyev were presented at the ceramics display at the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan in February 2002. The artist visited the ancient city several times, learning the distinctive customs of the Bukharan masters. By tradition, a pupil had to receive a blessing in three holy places. One of them was the tomb of the craftsman Mir Said Amir, the spiritual mentor of all ceramic craftsmen. The second holy place was the burial vault of Bakhouddin Naqshbandiy, whose name is linked with a beautiful legend. Mir Said Amir is thought to have been the teacher of Bakhouddin Naqshbandiy. Once, when the young Bakhouddin was firing some artefacts, he ran out of firewood. Not knowing what to do, he asked his teacher. The teacher’s advice was: “Take off your shirt and cast yourself into the fire.” Obeying his mentor, the pupil threw himself into the fire. Black smoke rose from the oven, but Bakhouddin emerged from it safe and sound. The pupil asked what the secret of his miraculous salvation was, whereupon the teacher replied: “You have heeded the words of your teacher and have proved your love for your vocation. Nothing happened to you because that love is genuine. Now drink a cup of water.” After drinking the water, Bakhouddin continued his work. Since then, it has been customary to put a cup of water near the oven, while the black smoke that comes from it is seen as indicating that an artefact has been fired sufficiently.
The craftsman’s last blessing was obtained at Bakhouddin Naqshbandiy’s mausoleum. But that was not the end of the consecration ritual. The pupil did his best to cook pilau and summoned the neighbours. The teachers prepared threads of various colours, knotted together, and wound them around the pupil’s elbows, then they would drape a red cloth over his shoulders on top of his robe, wind it round with seven metres of gauze and put similar coloured threads around his waist. After that, for 40 or 23 days, the pupil had to observe the chilla, living in a separate room and not going out into the street. During that time, all the knots tied around his waist and arms had to unravel themselves. That is how the Bukhara potters’ custom of “giving a hand and tying the waist” was accomplished.
Ashur Mukhammad too passed through all these rituals. Qubaro-bibi was delighted that the knots of the threads on his arms came undone very soon. “This means that usto Mir Said Amir came to you himself,” she said. “And the knots round your waist will untie themselves tomorrow.” From that day onwards, the artist has picked up his clay with even greater inspiration. And there is every reason why his creative endeavours have been proceeding successfully. The master’s memories of Bukhara and the culture and customs of that ancient city have come to be the main theme in his work.
Author: Saida Ilkhomova