Interconnections in the Art of Traditional Murals: Tashkent – Kokand

Issue #2 • 1123

Reciprocal influence of two major centres of traditional wall-painting in Uzbekistan – Tashkent and Kokand – was determined by political, economic and cultural factors, primarily due to geographical proximity of the two cities, as well as by historically significant events. Kokand was known since the 10th century as Kavakend; in 1740 the name Kokand proper appears referring to the city that emerged on the site of Eskikurgan fortress. Initially, Kokand remained dependent on Bukhara Emirate, but under the rule of Mukhammed Alimkhan (1800-1809) it attained independence, subjugating Tashkent as well. Quite explicably, from then on, artistic processes in Kokand and Tashkent acquire many common traits. It was in Kokand, the capital city of the Khanate, where the best creative forces were concentrated; here the new trends and techniques for building and decorating dwellings developed. Masters from Tashkent, on the one hand, contributed to the formation of the Kokand centre of wall-painting, and, on the other hand, were influenced by the Kokand style that evolved under the effect of various factors. For instance, in early 20th century usto Yakubjon Raufov, ornamental artist from Tashkent, having mastered the Tashkent wall-painting manner, went to work in Fergana Valley where he studies the experience of local masters; his murals performed in Fergana-Tashkent style have been preserved in Andijan, Namangan, Margilan and Khojent (1).

The commonality of trends in architecture and architectural decorum has even resulted in the appearance in academic literature of a concept such as ‘Fergana-Tashkent school of architectural decorum’, which emphasized certain dependence of Tashkent on trends characteristic of Kokand.

Contacts between Kokand and Tashkent artists and masters in the environment of a single nation, Kokand Khanate, were a common phenomenon. Ornamental artists from Fergana went to work in Tashkent, and masters from Tashkent, in turn, worked in the cities of Fergana Valley (for example, in 1912-1913 Tashkent master Tashpulat Arsankulov painted a ceiling of operations hall of a former Russian-Asian Bank), and Kokand ornamental artist Narkuzi Nurmatov, the representative of a famous Narkuziev-Makhmudov dynasty, together with then well-known masters and ornamental artists usto Sherali Khoja Khasanov, usto Tashpulat Arsankulov, usto A. Kasymjanov (all from Tashkent), usto Shirin Muradov (Bukhara), usto A. Palvanov (Khiva) and ceramist usto Abdulla (Rishtan) decorated the mansions of a Russian diplomat A. Polovtsev and Prince N. Romanov in Tashkent, which have become a vivid example of Fergana-Tashkent school of architectural decorum. Reciprocal exchange of creative experience in the course of joint work has long since been typical for the development of traditional arts, facilitating the enhancement of workmanship and artistic level of wall-paintings, enriching them with new expressive means and motifs, and contributing to the improvement of technological process.

At the same time, despite common features and close contacts, both centres have characteristic peculiarities of their own. It is not by accident that recently researchers increasingly often raise the question about the existence of an independent Tashkent school of architectural decorum (3).

A remarkable monument reflecting specificities of Kokand and Tashkent ornament, along with ornaments of other major cities such as Bukhara, Khiva, Samarqand and Termez, is the interior decoration of Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre (Tashkent) created in 1946. According to the concept of architect A. V. Shchusev, each of the halls was to represent artistic traditions of different parts of Uzbekistan. For this purpose, masters and artists, nakkosh and hanchkor who worked in the field of traditional art were invited. The Fergana (Kokand) hall was decorated by well-known ornamental artists and specialists in architectural painting S. Narkuziev and N. Marasulev; and the Tashkent hall – by T. Arslankulov.

Speaking about distinctive features of Tashkent and Kokand ornament and the art of wall-painting, we believe necessary to make a comparative analysis of creative work of the leading representatives of these centres: A. Kasymjanov, a nakkosh from Tashkent, and S. Makhmudov, a sirchi from Kokand (sirchi is a name used in Kokand in reference to ornamental artists). The unique work of these ornamental artists tell of a close inter-relationship in the wall-painting art of the 19th and 20th centuries, of stylistic unity between the two epochs, and of a priority of classical heritage. The work of these masters is fairly well studied, thus we will draw only brief comparison between the Tashkent and Kokand (Fergana) schools of ornamental murals, using the example of creative approach of their two representatives. While creative attitude to the process and infinitely varying diversity of designs they created are common to the masters from both centres, there is a number of differences that should be noted.

The Tashkent style that was characteristic of Kasymjanov’s work in the first half of the 20th century stands out by carefully painted fine ornament, darker and muted paints and conservative colouring; in the second half of the 20th century the colouring becomes lighter, which influenced Kokand wall-painting too.

Unlike it, the Kokand ornament features larger forms, bright and ‘juicy’ colours, and sharp contrast between warm and cold shades, which creates unexpectedly harmonious combinations.

The Tashkent ornamental artists paint small ceiling beams, vassa, with simpler vegetable patterns, without giving them too much attention.

Meanwhile, the vassa decoration is something that the Kokand sirchi take particular pride in. The ornament they put on vassa is more complex, performed with great care and thought through with regard to the general layout of the beam array itself and ceiling painting as a whole.

The representatives of the Tashkent and Kokand centres also reacted differently to the influence of European culture. After one failed attempt, Kasymjanov rejected the idea of introducing landscape into ornamental compositions.

Kokand artists, particularly Saidumar Makhmudov, not only introduced landscapes and still life, but also created monumental wall-paintings (a tea-house in Besharyk) employing figurative images.

Tashkent ornamental artists, along with traditional architecture, also decorate household items, such as tables, jewel-boxes, etc, whereas Kokand masters engage exclusively in architectural painting.

Kasymjanov was more inclined to use vegetable patterns and seldom employed girikh in his work.

Representatives of the Narkuziev-Makhmudov artistic dynasty were equally skilful at using both vegetable and geometric designs. Kasymjanov avoided the autonomous role of a medallion on a background free from patterns, filling it with ‘sprouting’ tendrils, ringlets and leaves.

Makhmudov is his work, particularly that belonging to a later period, gives specific attention to large medallions against a vacant background. The unfilled space in his compositions has its own value.

During the second half of the 20th century the situation gradually changes. Tashkent, having acquired the status of a capital city in early 1930s, becomes a trendsetter in different forms of art, including wall-painting. It should also be taken into account that at that time many masters of traditional wall-painting received education in Tashkent and, therefore, certainly, were primarily influenced by the Tashkent style. As a result, starting from 1950s-1960s there has been an increasingly clear gravitation towards the Tashkent wall-painting style, which was determined by the capital city status, the work of the Tashkent masters in the cities of Fergana Valley, as well as by the fact that artistic education system was mainly oriented towards Tashkent decorum techniques. For instance, it is known that in the second half of the 20th century O. Usmanov, a master from Tashkent who authored compositions in light colours, worked in the Valley cities.

The influence of Tashkent wall-painting manifested itself in lightening of colour palette in Kokand-style compositions and gravitation towards pastel shades. This point of view is maintained by the ornamental artists themselves. Y. Raufov, a nakkosh from Tashkent, believed that the fashion to replace bright colours with pale ones “came from Tashkent, and now everywhere in the country people always ask to paint ceilings in their homes ‘more gently’” (2, p. 46). All Kokand masters fall under influence of the Tashkent style distinguished by lighter colouring. For instance, the Tashkent style was employed by S. Makhmudov and his apprentices when they painted the interiors of a tea-house of a cotton gin, a club of oil and fats factory and many other sites in Kokand.

It should be noted that the lightening of painting palette during the second half of the 20th century was not the first instance of changes in traditional colouring. Similar situation was observed in late 19th century when, under the influence of European traditions, “the palette became generally lighter, featuring light-green, light-blue and orange hues. The colour scale broadens, reaching twelve and more shades”. (3, p. 14). However, changes that occurred during the second half of the 20th century were more radical. On the whole, the lightening of painting palette was natural and primarily associated with changes in building techniques. Whereas formerly interiors were constructed with an important role of wooden ceilings and numerous hung and spread embroideries and rugs that “required” an adequate decoration of a ceiling space, later on, with the spread of European construction techniques a smooth surface of a plastered and whitewashed wall comes to the forefront that calls for a more lightly coloured painting. A. Sokolova also noted that “this dramatic change in the colouring of wood-painting was influenced by an increasingly common use of whitewash by Uzbek people and the application, after whitewashing, of various designs using a stencil. These ‘patterned walls’, sometimes odd and anti-art, were usually created by plasterers in soft pastel shades”. (2, p. 46). Thus, traditional home decoration devices were constantly adapted to the changing living environment.

Other changes that appeared in the Tashkent wall-painting and influenced the one of Kokand are related to the introduction into ornamentation the methods of colouration and shading of elements, which brought in colour diversity that came to replace localized colour combinations. Shading on ornamental motifs that reveals form dimensional shapes was a result of an influence of European painting techniques on traditional painting. It should be noted that this innovation reflected a pernicious tendency of teaching folk and traditional artists the skills of European academic painting. Although some representatives of traditional art forms opposed such eclectic mixture, it, nevertheless, happened and caused certain damage to the traditional forms of artistic culture. Even the Kokand ornamental artist S. Narkuziev started to use shading to give volume to the ornamental motifs and emphasize chiaroscuro effects. However, this innovation to a certain degree lowered artistic qualities of traditional ornament, depriving it of the prominence and contrasting effect of localized colours.

Still, the Kokand wall-painting in its finest specimens has preserved its unique sense of colour, form and rhythm. One of such very typical Kokand works is the decoration of “Fergana” tea-house in Kara-Kamysh [residential district] performed by S. Makhmudov in 1982. The caf? frontal decoration that introduced vivacity and melody of traditional art into the heartlessness of concrete panel residential area was also created by the masters from Kokand restoration workshop. This caf? was a gift to Tashkent from Fergana Region on the occasion of marking the 2000th anniversary of the capital city.

Thus, the Tashkent and Kokand wall-painting, having absorbed various influences, evolved into unique and distinctive centres with their own understanding of colour and ornamental structuring. Certain contribution to the development of Kokand art of architectural painting was also made by Tashkent nakkosh artists. During the second half of the 20th century the leadership of the Tashkent school grew markedly stronger, which manifested itself in the lightening of colouring and, under the influence of European painting, a change in the interpretation of ornamental motifs. At the same time, active connections between the two centres that influenced art work of some ornamental artists have not prevented either of them to preserve his uniqueness and originality.

Khalima Rafikova

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