The bustle of the old bazaar… Sellers and buyers cluster around the stalls, fans cheer the kurash wrestlers, old men in a tea house enthusiastically discuss local news with the singing quails in the background, askiyachi compete in a wit contest, and one can almost hear the laughter, exclamations and the incessant buzz of the crowd. These familiar everyday scenes acquire almost epic significance as they present the Uzbek national spirit in the “Old Town” drawing series by Anvar Mamajanov. A continuous intricate flowing line drawn with pen and ink, and emphatically planar graphic solution of the compositions resemble the structure of the traditional Uzbek ornament. Every paper sheet hosts a large number (several dozens or even hundreds) of characters, and all of them are given individual portrait features. The “Old Town” series is akin to traditional Uzbek song – its subjects are flavoured with soft humour and subtle irony where one can discern a slightly raw and peppered joke, they fascinate the viewer not only with the multitude of recognizable details, but mostly with their powerful temperament, pulling one into the whirl of strong passions and emotions.
Graphic arts of Uzbekistan today are represented by a whole galaxy of graphic artists, and the art of Anvar Mamajanov has long had the attention of fine art experts and amateurs. For Anvar Mamajanov the old town holds nothing exotic: it is the world where he was born in 1950 and grew up in one of the oldest streets in Besh-Agach. The favorite pastime of the five year old boy was drawing, and the best present – album and paints. Eventually he started attending an art school and in 1968 joined the ceramics department of the Tashkent Theatre and Art Institute (now the Behzad National Institute of Arts and Design). To him clay appeared to be a material that could embody things impossible to be shown in a picture. Through he usually scratched a drawing on his ceramic items, too.
When student, Mamajanov chose the old city Chorsu bazaar as his favourite spot for the studies. With a notepad and pencil, he went to the market-place, to the craftsmen’s shops and quail market, drawing chasers, tinsmiths and carpenters who manufactured beshik baby cradles. The voices of people crowding around the sacks of potatoes and corn, the chirping of birds, the high-wire performance – all that was the old city life he was so eager to capture on paper.
With the arrival of spring he was drawn to the park. The student’s point of “observation” was a big tree, and to prevent himself from falling from it, carried away by drawing, Anvar fastened himself to the trunk with his father’s strong leather belt. At that time he had no idea that all these drawings from nature of would eventually provide him with material for a whole series of graphic works.
Having graduated from the Institute in 1973, Mamajanov began working at the Tashkent experimental art workshop. With his excellent skill in ceramics, he used the potter’s wheel to produce platters and teacups, sculpted from clay and painted souvenir compositions. And in his spare time, for the heart sake, he continued to draw. One day, one of his artist friends showed him the etching technique. The first experience was a success. So, a 1982 exhibition displayed Mamajanov’s first graphic series, “The Old Tashkent” – the idea he conceived already in his student years. The series demonstrated his immaculate skill with a line drawing, his keen observation and mastery of compositional solution.
It should be noted that the old Tashkent was to be present in his art for many years to come. Again and again Mamajanov would return to this theme, finding ever new subjects. For instance, at the centre of the “Before Pilav” composition is the pealing and slicing of carrots and onions by a huge samovar; in sheets “Teahouse” and “Old Bazaar” the action unfolds at the stalls selling vegetables, grain and flour. The same theme continues in “My Dear Old Folks” series made in pencil in the 2010. The characters of the drawings, grown wise with experience, have retained the ability to wonder and laugh – they enthusiastically discuss newspaper news, melt to the quail song, play chess, tell jokes and engage in an argument over a cup of tea – in short, live their life to the full, regardless of age. The artist finds some unforgettable old men types and gives each one an emotional characteristic.
A large segment of Mamajanov’s art belongs to book illustrations. In 1982, after joining the graphic arts section of the Artists’ Union, he received an offer to work for Gafur Gulyam Publishing House. The routine of the publishing industry helped Mamajanov understand the complex process of producing a book as a wholesome literary and artistic piece. It became important for him not only to get an idea of the storyline when reading a manuscript, but also to grasp things the author wanted to say between the lines.
Among the numerous book titles designed by Mamajanov quite interesting are the M. A. Hudaikulov’s satirical collection “The Wonderful World” and “The Jokes of Afandi”, which defined some fundamental techniques of illustrating literary works that Mamajanov refined and employed in his subsequent work. The artist also illustrated the “Alpamysh” epic poem; the novels of Uzbek literature classic Abdulla Kadiri “The Final Days” and “Scorpion at the Altar”; Chingiz Aitmatov’s novels “Farewell, Gulsary”, “The White Steamboat”, “The First Teacher”, etc. Aspiring for a more profound revelation of the book content, Mamajanov selects a particular drawing style for each of them. Dramatic collisions in Kadiri’s novels, asceticism and dedication of Aitmatov’s characters, and spiritual strength of Alpamysh the Hero and his devoted lady-friend Barchinoy were convincingly represented in graphic images. In each case, Mamajanov’s illustrations stand out as highly artful and cultural, demonstrating his ability for an insight into the inner world of the characters.
To illustrate Pirimkul Kadyrov’s historical novel “Starty Nights” Mamajanov chose a special compositional technique. He created portrait images of the book characters, which took up most of the page space against the background where miniature drawings accurately reproduced the historical and temporal canvas of the literary work. Thus, he recreated psychological portraits of Babur, Sheibanikhan and other characters of the novel. Particularly impressive is the illustration for one of the most dramatic episodes in the life of Babur – severe illness of his son Humayun, heir to the throne of India. The portrait of the young prince appears on the background of a scene picturing the ritual of the father dedicating his life to his son.
At times, in the illustrations for “Gulliver’s Travels” by J. Swift, pen and pencil in the hands of the artist appear to be the tools of a jeweller – so great is his mastery in the art of drawing. Adventures of the brave sailor provide the artist with a base point for fantastic and intricate variations “on the subject”. Mamajanov does not merely illustrate “Gulliver’s Travels” but creates a grotesque environment disguised as fictional fantastic story.
Mamajanov has reached the stage of artistic maturity and wisdom. In his works, he increasingly often turns to the philosophical problems of the meaning of life, its transience and its true values. A real achievement in the genre of easel graphic works is a series of his drawings in pencil inspired by the philosophy of Sufism. One of the sheets in the “Dervishes” series pictures two old men wearing kuloh hats. Items given to them by the artist – the kashkul bowl made of coconut shell, the beads, and a bag with few possessions – leave no doubt that in front of us are wandering Sufis, roving the roads of the earth in search of the truth supreme. Their mind is so pure that even the timorous sparrows alight safely on the travellers’ staffs and hats. One bird trustingly perched on the dervish’s hand. The author’s inscription on the edge of the picture, says: “They took us for two old elm trees”, meaning that birds perceive the dervishes as an integral part of nature – the world created by God.
At the centre of Mamajanov’s most cryptic piece filled with mysticism, “The Expulsion from Paradise” is the image of a young woman. She has a slender waist, her head is crowned with a turban; she is covered by a veil with openings through which one can see her beautiful face. But the young beauty inspires a mixed feeling of admiration and fear, for her graceful body is entangled by snakes, one of which aims directly at her heart. In her hand the woman holds an apple – the symbol of life in bloom; looking over her shoulder there is an old woman with a staff, and an apple stub is dangling from it. At the edge of the picture the artist inscribed the lines of a quatrain, revealing a profound humanism of our life’s philosophy:
The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov conferred the title of Honoured Worker of Culture of Uzbekistan on Anvar Mamajanov for his valuable contribution to the development of arts of independent Uzbekistan. Mamajanov was awarded the Gold Medal of the national Academy of Arts.