Don’t waste your time to use the hour that rushes to the abyss.
Drink, Moon-face! How often shall the crescent moon
Rise up the sky to see no more of us…
For many millennia the image of a woman has been the most magnetic and inexhaustible source of inspiration for masters of arts. The exhibition titled “Moon-face” held in November 2006 in the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan demonstrated how this theme is explored in the contemporary art of Uzbekistan. The project was organized by the “Forum for Uzbekistan Culture and Art” Foundation and Swiss Cooperation Bureau. The author of this article, Academician of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, Akbar Khakimov functioned as the curator for the exhibition.
Art can be rated largely by its ability to express issues and ideas common to all mankind in forms that adequately reflect modern realities and aesthetic standards. One of these ideas is the image of a woman – a leitmotif of all the art in the world, which was extensively interpreted in oriental literature and art. Despite frequent reference to this image, there has recently been no independent, conceptually focused contemporary art exposition in Uzbekistan on the subject. Meanwhile, this image is not only the theme of art. The dynamics of modern life has brought new understanding of infinitely deep phenomenon of femininity.
We can also sense these changes in women, our contemporaries. Former stereotypes are also changing: socially and psychologically, woman’s image becomes more diverse and refined. In art, the time for farm toilers in the fields and industrial shock worker women has gone, but unfortunately there is no new creative and philosophic vision of the theme. Thus the task for the art also becomes more complicated as in 1990s artists tended to neglect this problem for various reasons. Therefore, a new insight into this subject-matter appears to be quite relevant.
Given the wide ranging spectrum of the subject-matter, the author of the project believed necessary to focus the participants’ attention on the following aspects of it:
- 1. Woman in the modern world: social portraits.
- 2. Oriental woman: from deification to de-sacralization.
- 3. Philosophic context of woman’s loneliness.
- 4. He and she: lyrical and romantic aspect of the theme.
- 5. Interpretation of love in oriental philosophy: from Sufistic context to sensual and earthly perception.
The exhibition was actually an international one, for besides Uzbekistan artists its participants were also from the Netherlands (Ronald Kleer) and the UK (Michael Barry Lane and his spouse Favzia Lane). The choice of the project participants was made by the curator based on his own experience and observations over the work of a group of leading artists from Uzbekistan and other countries working in deferent genres and techniques of contemporary art: from painting and video-art to installation and photography. They are primarily artists from 25 to 45 years old showing the most creative and original thinking. The exposition was laid out in two halls on the ground floor of the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan.
One hall accommodated the works of the participants of “Tetragon” exhibition that took place in 2007. They were Timur Akhmedov, Zebinisso Sharipova and Babur Ismailov, and the place of the then participating artist Farrukh Akhmadaliev was now occupied by Barry and Favzia Lane. All of them presented mainly paintings, although two artists added a video-installation (B. Ismailov) and photo-composition (T. Akhmedov) to their canvases. The other hall, except rather well-known artists Ronald Kleer (painting and photographs) and Yura Useinov (video-art), displayed the works of young artists Anastasia Chaplenko (painting), Diyor Razykov (painting and installation), Sanjar Jabbarov (video-art), Nigora Sharafkhojaeva (installation) and Sherzod Rajamov (installation).
Timur Akhmedov presented three wonderful paintings and one socio-philosophical photo-composition featuring text from the work of a renowned post-modernist author V. Pelevin. Painting titled “A Thousand and Two Nights”, a kind of a remix of a famous parable, looks like an oriental version of the American movie The Groundhog Day. Monotonous repetition of events creating a sense of frozen time makes one think about moral stagnation and the absence of a living, non-mythologized reality. “Creme Caramel” and “Letter to Edward Hopper” are sculpturally more straightforward; in the interpretation of characters the outward irony delicately conceals dramatic bitterness of a woman’s loneliness.
Akhmedov’s painting plasticity is filigree and exquisite; emerald-rose and blue-green shades, shimmering, create a kind of glamorous intonation. Yet this vision is deceptive and illusory, as the author’s sarcastic philosophy is quite evident in many instrumental techniques: chaotic mixture of shapes and colours, deliberate compositional asymmetry, and construction of quasi-fantastic characters. All this creates an overall sense of grotesque and a kind of an apocalyptical mood that is known for its harsh judgements and nihilistic point of view.
Socio-philosophical acuteness in the perception of modern life reality has clearly manifested itself in a photo-composition showing a girl pushing a pram with bread on the marketplace. Very appropriately chosen texts from the book of V. Pelevin signed with a Sufi alias and a kind of exaggerated aloofness of the author’s intonation intensify socio-dramatic expressivity of the character: “…Fists already clenching, she promises to herself that she will fight tooth and nail and take lots and lots of money from this hostile void and wipe out of her way anyone, and nobody would ever dare calling her the American way – looser…”
Babur Ismailov created his painting “Ataraxia” in the form of a narrow vertical strip, but for the exhibition he prepared a final version of the work by adding two empty canvases 1.5 by 2 meters each at either side. The image of an haughty, rather ugly, yet amazingly attractive and spiritually strong woman indeed invokes associations with epicurean teaching called ataraxia – carefree life without suffering granted to those who is capable of rejecting pernicious sensual wants. Rigid structure and gothic angularity in the way the character is interpreted, her provoking pose and tall and fragile pedestal made of thin twigs on which she stands create a strange feeling of her inaccessibility and at the same time vulnerability and loneliness. Altered format of the painting has given it a spatial expressivity and enhanced the dramatic key of the image.
Ismailov’s video-installation in the form of a group of plaster cast women clad in paranja sitting and watching a video-composition showing a modern-looking girl who is stripping herself naked is innovative for many reasons. And it is not just the matter of showing a nude girl – the artist does not intend to make this solution an epatage; video frames stylized to look like an old chronicle flash in such a way that any erotic elements can hardly be discerned. More constructive in the composition is the idea of contrasting the two worlds – and these are not past and present, but the two paradigms of perceiving human values also relevant for our contemporary social life: traditional and religious vis-?-vis secular.
Zebinisso Sharipova presented a triptych – the three times of Muslim prayer, as a theme of repentance, faith and, at the same time, sacral hope for the grace of God and Fortune. Grey and yellow colour range intensifies mystic quality of the images, although in terms of its power, semantic expressivity and plasticity this composition yields to her earlier work “Angels Who Descended Upon The Earth!” that was displayed at the “Tetragon” exhibition. The overall minor-key philosophy of the piece is consonant with the semantic key in the works by Akhmedov and Ismailov.
From this point of view, two decoratively bright paintings performed in traditional folk style by Barry and Favzia Lane are perceived as a kind of dissonance. The canvases show naive and charming young girls in colourful traditional dresses, full of dream-hopes. That is also a reality of our life – actually such women in our villages and rural settlements are not that few. Despite hardships and problems they keep their faith in good things and do not loose their optimism.
The same heartfelt and warm emotion for rural women was expressed in a series of paintings and photographs by Dutch painter R. Kleer, which were displayed in the other hall and performed in another, purely realistic manner. The metamorphoses of this artist’s style are quite indicative: from almost non-figurative painting of mid 1990s he arrived to realistic painting, having drifted along a trajectory completely reverse to that of the national painting of Uzbekistan.
Video-art by Yuriy Useinov that consists of two parts, “Woman Walking Backwards” and “The Knife and The Fan”, is poly-semantic: it has one character but in different embodiments and life situations. An important expressive instrument here is a musical soundtrack very cleverly chosen by the author. The uniqueness of woman’s personality and her unconventional social disposition and behaviour is the primary leitmotif of this video piece that stands out with its underlined philosophic aspect.
Painting triptych by Anastasia Chaplenko titled “Women”, showing monumental, full-bodied labourers engrossed in work – a kind of a stylistic symbiosis between characters created by Rembrandt and Gudiashvili – appeared somewhat odious, without leaving a sense of formal and semantic completeness.
Working rather successfully in painting, installation and video-art, Diyor Razykov, one of the most creative young artists, presented an unusual painting composition “The Seven Beauties”. Sacral-romantic lyricism of Orient is often associated with the mystery of Sufistic meditations – that is what the artist tried to convey using a peculiar toolbox of shapes. Perhaps less apt and somewhat ill-considered is his installation created with a safe-box wrapped in burlap.
The most effective in this hall in terms of visual impression was a sculptural installation by Nigora Sharafkhojaeva “LUN@LIK.YA” compiled of a huge number of compact disks. Hidden irony built into the installation exposes the author’s idea that regardless of all technical innovations of the information age the woman never looses her intrinsic moral and human qualities and femininity.
Sherzod Rajamov, through his installation titled “Just the Soft Sound of Your Footsteps” – clippings from glossy magazines for women cut as woman’s footprints, sneers at yet another stereotypical perception about women as creatures preoccupied only with the issue of their physical appeal.
Video-art by Sanjar Jabbarov “Untitled” is a subtle and moving piece of work that reveals his qualities as both philosopher and a lyric poet.
In conclusion the author would like to say that the availability of unconventional creative ideas, regardless of the form of artistic presentation, is still relevant. On the other hand, works demonstrated at the exhibition have shown a kind of new outlined trend – the artists’ aspiration for philosophic interpretation of social issues – something that was weakened or even absent in the national art of mid 1990s and early 2000s. Here comes a question: is not the former art model of socially indifferent mentality deferring its place under pressure from extra-aesthetic factors to another artistic and philosophic viewpoint that is focused more on vital subject-matters? The exhibition “Moon-face”, having become a kind of indicator for the process of renewal of artistic attitude, seems to be saying “Yes” rather than “No” to this question.