Pearl of the Uzbek Art – artist Shamsroi Khasanova

Issue #1 • 2408

We would like to acquaint you with  the interview  with S.T. Inamova,  the Chairman of the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan

The name of Shamsroi Khasanova is little known to the public. Probably, it can be accounted for her early death (1917 – 1956), chamber-like creativity and a number of external circumstances. It is even more vexing as far from large heritage of Khasanova is interesting not only from a certain artistic point of view, but also to some extent it serves the harbinger of recent significant changes in the art of Uzbekistan.

Poetess Uvaisi. 1947

Sh. Khasanova was a modest person, many of those acquainted with her had not suspected of the tense inner work filling her creativity and making it specific and meaningful.

Kh.Khasanova belonged to the first generation of the Uzbek artists, and all troubles of painter’s mastery she equally shared with other Uzbek masters of those years. From this point of view, her creative work is typical, but one circumstance made her stand out among the others – she was the first Uzbek woman that plied the brush. Today, it is a common phenomenon, but then it required the troublesome breaking of the established living standards. From this point of view, Shamsroi’s fate is exemplary as all her life she was in constant search. She had never calmed down feeling that her fate was reflecting the fate of an Uzbek woman striving for freedom.

Sh. Khasanova was the student of A.Volkov and P.Benkov. Later on, during the World War II, she learned from the evacuee to Tashkent, Professor M.Shemyakin, and worked under the immediate guidance of V. Rozhdestvensky. Such variable sources account for complex and contradictory development of her creativity. Some core aspects revealed themselves in her both topical and formal plans.

Creative work of then young Ch.Akhmarov and Sh.Khasanova turned out to be fruitful as looking for specific national means of expression; they found original vivid solutions revealing specificity of their individualities.

Historical art of Uzbekistan praises the cycle of portraits of oriental poetesses by Sh. Khasanova; she worked upon it since 1941 when she worked as a guide and then the Director of the Arts Museum of Uzbekistan. She had a studio next to her office and spent any spare moment diligently working on a number of portraits, compositions and still-lives. She strived to fix with her brush images of outstanding women who played a great role in the culture history of the Orient longing for the beautiful. Sh.Khasanova created images of the poetesses Zebunnisso, Nodira, Uvaisi and Mutriba whose beautiful look in her portraits is warmed up with sympathy and inspiration. The painter was concerned with the problem of spiritual freedom for an Oriental woman whose independence and creative activity were close to Khasanova herself (she was concealing her studying at the Tashkent Art School from her relatives).

Therefore, the life itself prompted the theme and this ensured its particular place in Shamsroi’s creative activity. Sh. Khasanova enthusiastically studied not only the oriental book miniature, but also the historical materials, and, what is particularly important, the poetical texts. The connoisseur of the Uzbek poetry, S.Kasymkhodjaev, who worked for SMA of Uzbekistan that time, helped her very much. In many respects this determined further development of her creative activity.

Selfportrait

These circumstances led the painter to creating portraits in imagination. Spiritual communication between the painter and images in her pictures revealed itself with the very first portrait – Indian poetess Zebunnisso-begim – that Khasanova provided with her own likeness. Sh. Khasanova saw herself in her character, felt it with her heart. Khasanova made a sketch and two versions of Zebunnisso-begim’s portrait – half-length and full-length. The sketch is somewhat impressionistic in both paintings, in the interpretation of the image; the artist turned to intensive and contrasting colors applied by light transparent strokes. She had beautifully grasped the moment of inner life and moods exactly depicting the feeling of instantaneity and changeability. The half-length portrait bears more similarity between the artist and her character. It discloses anxiety and impetuousness of Zebunnisso-begim, but it is achieved by purely outward means – exaggerated mimicry and gesture.

The color here is more pungent than in the sketch, but the spectrum is the same. It is remarkable that both the sketch and the portrait are made in the touch of chiaroscuro volume painting, and only in the full-length portrait, we can see the flattening. Portrait of Zebunnisso-begim appeared to become a turning point in Khasanova’s creativity. Face development is very interesting in her portraits. On the surface, the artist remains within the ideal type peculiar to the miniature. However, by evening-out and flattening the shape, she introduces a small detail that is immediately breaking, and sometimes even just tracing the abstractedness of the scheme. This concerns symmetrically raised eyebrows, a squint eye, pressed lips, quick look, peculiar flexion of head and etc.

Sh. Khasanova widely applies symbolism of color and various details. Thus, a blooming twig, besides its immediate sense, conveys the idea of joyful spring blossoming and poetical inspiration. The major part of the works (‘Nadira’, ‘Mekhri’ and ‘Mutriba’) has been painted based on the revision of eastern miniature touches synthesized with the pictorial traditions of Paul Gauguin. Guided by the exquisite poetry of the miniature, strict composition structure and flatbed interpretation of space, Sh. Khasanova refused its significant feature – canonicalality and abstractedness in conveyance of feelings, ideas and states. After apprehending conventional interpretation of gestures and poses, the artist endowed them with the tint of concrete nature preserving ideality of the looks and managed to introduce an element of unrepeatedness, internal tension and even certain dramatic effect. In the canvases of this cycle, composition is subordinated to the plane and based on movable equilibrium of the mass; however, it lacks symmetry and static character.

Poetess Zebunniso. 1946

Strict and clear linear and colorful rhythm is subordinated to the logic of the internal state and character of the model, and this leads to concrete richness of vivid content without losing lyrical poetry. No less original is the pictorial texture of these canvases: their flatbed interpretation of large colorful spots does not exclude a fine development of color; broad and smooth touch is covered by a brush-stroke and brings all to an original modeling of the volume. Such touch characterizes Gauguin’s paintings. It also concerns the energetic contour around the color spot providing the feeling of materiality and mobility of the form. As a result, characters of the portrait cycle combine concrete nature of the emotional state and realia, simultaneously preserving features of poetical ideality and loftiness.

Poesy, anxiety, and intellect characterize portraits of the poetesses created by Sh. Khasanova although they are far from equivalence.

In a relatively early portrait of Nadira, the poetess from Kokand (1944 – 1945), Sh.Khasanova depicts details of furniture: a carved table, an aivan grid, a costume and decorations. There is just a general hint at the garden in the picture. However, these details do not cast the shade on the aside image of impulsive and elegant Nadira. Asymmetric composition, expressive and mobile silhouette reminding of a bird with flickering wings, complicated turn of the figure and, finally, gesture create the impression of strong emotions and restless soul. The gesture of the left hand holding a kerchief complies with the miniature spirit, but here it is motivated and, losing its sign nature, displays the inner state of the poetess. Interpretation of Nadira’s face is also specific; it meets the canons of the eastern feminine beauty, its shape is maximally simplified, but is vitally convincing. The face is painted very finely and softly with slight color contrasts. Colorful solution of the portrait is based on restrained and elegant golden-blue color spectrum. Spectrum of shades has been developed and organically molded with the contour. Characteristic is the gesture of the right hand holding the book. It had been so precisely identified that Khasanova would, repeatedly, turn to it later on. In the portrait of poetess Uvaisi (1947), this gesture acquires a little bit different character. Impulsiveness and anxiety highlighted in Nadira’s portrait made the right hand gesture be light, and the book seems just to touch the table; in Uvaisi’s portrait the gesture speaks for a more complicated and tragic fate. Uvaisi came from a noble Marghelan family; she early took a great interest in poetry, which her father introduced to her. However, she was married to a rude and uneducated person. Uvaisi did not only dare to leave her husband (it was the Muslim East of the early 19th century!), she joined the court of the Kokand khan and became a court poetess despite condemnation, mockery and direct pursuit by the clergy. Of course, only a woman possessing eminent mentality, strong character and courage could decide her destiny.

Poetess Nadira 1944-45

This firmness was to much extent ensured by the poetical talent of Uvaisi and by her devotion to art. The artist did not display full complexity and power of her character, but she strived just to such understanding. That is why psychology of the character becomes more important for Sh.Khasanova than historically true details. The completely image-bearing structure of the picture is aimed at the solution of this task. Composition is to the limit simple: a woman’s figure in the middle, and a blooming twig above her on the left. The figure is generally pyramidal but within this strict and clear form, Khasanova develops the complicated movement: head, torso and hands are given in the opposite turns, in tense interaction as if incarnating that dramatic experience of that courageous and talented woman. Despite some idolized convention, the face is marked not by the individuality of features, but by the unrepeatedness of the expression. One can feel both poetical dreaminess and perseverance. The coloring based on the bold confrontation of the intensive dark blue and golden colors (so much different from the delicate shades in the ‘Portrait of Nadira’).

“Portrait of Kashgar Poetess Mutriba” (1947) is the most mature work in this cycle. Not once the picture was exhibited at the International exhibitions (at the International Exhibition in Montreal in 1967). The portrait seems to grasp the moment when the idea, word and sound were born. It is well known that in the East, verse and music often come together. Therefore, the musical instrument (old Kashgar rubab) in the hands of the poetess sitting in the traditional eastern pose seems to be natural. Expressiveness of the image is, primarily, based on the rhythmical repetitions. A round cap, gentle, rounded line of sleeves and shoulders, no less smooth curve of edging on the collar and chest, and finally the border at the bottom of the dress that covers the crossed legs and repeats the curve of a half-folded scroll; rounded embroidery of the dress and semi-spherical body of the rubab give rise to the feeling of a slow and leisured melody. Only the straight neck of rubab introduces an element of unexpected dissonance and tension. Interpretation of Mutriba’s figure hints at the organic alloy of decorative flatness and painting plasticity. The face, although ideal and flattened, has been individualized mainly by a peculiar character of concentration creating the atmosphere of the intensive inner work. Dramatic effect here has been practically eliminated and the feeling of poetical thoughtfulness has been most fully revealed – everything is awaiting birth of a poetical word. This excited state is supported by the color in the structure of the picture that is very intensive and contrasting (pink, green, light blue, white that has absorbed the multiple reflection of surrounding color shades), and at the same time very delicate and keeping-back.

Poetess Zebunniso. 1943

Poetically ideal, harmonious and at the same time dramatic characters of the poetesses were the first achievements of Khasanova in this area. Sh. Khasanova managed to convey originality of the everyday life and culture of the East, and simultaneously reveal her understanding of life characterizing the individual of our time and reality. That is why her assessment of life and fate of the poetesses lacks cold objectiveness; from the position of active humanism she makes strengthening value and dignity of a human personality. The circumstance that the personality is the woman from the Medieval East adds specific witticism and adherence to principles. As a result, the imagery portraits acquire historical authenticity having nothing common with the ethnographic fancy-dressed historical method. It is just because of these properties portraits of the poetesses are real and deeply national.

Working upon the cycle of poetesses’ portraits Sh. Khasanova was painting portraits of her contemporaries.

‘Self-Portrait’ (early 50-s) is of a particular interest, as here the artist seems to establish links with the heroines of the poetesses’ portrait cycle. In the ‘Self-Portrait’, she strives to create a generalized and romanticized image based on the immediate study of nature. The full-face semi-figure occupies the whole surface of the canvas.

Having refused any narrative elements that (to the tiniest extent) existed in the portraits of her heroines, Sh. Khasanova turned to purely pictorial means of expressiveness. Just the solution of painting composition of the portrait reveals the inner content of the character. Multiple varieties of pictorial textures have been employed in it: the background is painted light and movable, tiny-alloyed strokes create the quivering airy environment from which the figure seems to emerge. It is energetically contoured by the long twisting strokes. Color inside the contour is intensive, the paint is more densely laid than in the background, that is why the figure stands out and strongly holds the surface of the canvas. Moreover, its structure is based on the strict and clear proportions and rhythmical turns adding the image with harmony and significance that proves its long-lasting value.

The artistic practices of many painters in Uzbekistan in the following periods showed the fruitfulness of Sh. Khasanova’s method concerned with the synthesis of traditions leading to the creation of the pictorial language depicting national reality in its character, including its aesthetic component that has overcome the canonical character of the medieval artistic tradition.

Dilbar Saidova

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