Ceramics by Nazira Kuzieva: The Happy Owners

Issue #1 • 251

Larissa Levteyeva

Nazira Kuzieva is a well-known ceramic artist who has long since participated in the art life of the country. Her first items she considers to be wrought professionally date to 1979. Since 1988 Kuzieva is a member of the Artists Union of Uzbekistan, heading its applied arts section since 2003. Kuzieva is a regular participant of national and international exhibitions, symposia and numerous biennials on ceramics. In 2007 she presented her work at an exhibition run as part of the Franco-Uzbek arts festival. Her awards include the Medal of Rozier-sur-Loir (France), as well as diplomas “Toshkent amaliy bezak sanatinining eng istedjodli rassom ayoli” (2000), “Ceramist of the Year” (2001), and one of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan (2005). Kuzieva’s works are collected not only in Uzbekistan, but also in Japan, France, Switzerland, England, Egypt, and Indonesia.
Kuzieva’s small studio is located in an apartment in a two-story old building on a quiet street of Tashkent. The walls are covered with pictures made by her children – daughter Nigora and son Anvar, both professional artists.
Nazira Kuzieva was born in Bukhara. The atmosphere of the ancient city with its majestic monuments always evoked the desire to create. At home, too, with her grandmother a gifted carpet weaver, creative atmosphere reigned. Kuzieva received her professional training in Tashkent, graduating from the Ben’kov Republican Vocational Art School (now the National Arts College) and the Tashkent Theatre and Art Institute named after Ostrovsky (presently the Behzad National Institute of Arts and Design).
Ceramic items created by the master show the author’s distinctive signature. Kuzieva believes that the most important element of the work is idea that determines the choice of material and technique. Since Kuzieva does not have the right facility to work with different materials, which would be possible in a properly equipped workshop with an oven giving the right roasting temperature, she works mainly with chamotte, white fireclay from Angren, which is more akin to faience. According to the artist, “chamotte is a friend who never fails you”, enduring temperature extremes, draughts, and never needing a special environment. Red clay, on the contrary, is more demanding and requires maintaining temperature regime and keeping the room properly insulated. Kuzieva enjoys working with it, just as with porcelain.
In 1998 she was awarded a grant that paid for her three months stay in Switzerland widely known for its tableware porcelain. It was a good schooling for the artist. She wrought many an item there, including large-size sculptures “Self-portrait”, “The Girl from the Aral Sea”, and decorative piece called “Shell”, which earned high appraisal from experts. The “Shell” has nothing to do with a sea-shell as such. The idea was to present a character of an individual who does not expose himself and is not outwardly emotional. Such are philosophers and sages with their rich inner world and extensive knowledge. Kuzieva regrets leaving all her works back in Switzerland. Photographs, in her view, can only give a vague idea about them.
The works by Kuzieva are characterized by contrasting combination of white and black. She believes that sculpture does not have to be painted. Light and shade are already colours. Chamotte is white with a beautiful texture; the material itself enriches the item. Rather modest introduction of black complements the overall white background, highlighting the idea.
Kuzieva is a creative person who dedicated her life to art. Ideas may come while watching a show, visiting an art exhibition, reading a book, or even meeting an interesting person. For instance, on a display at the Youth Theatre of Uzbekistan she saw Ben’kov’s painting “Courtyard”, noting its “chic”, as she put it, celadon green vine shadows, rather complex in terms of painting. She got carried away by her childhood memories of the Bukhara aryks filled with water of the same hue and decided to recreate these shadows in ceramics. This is how “Shadows on the Water” piece was conceived.
Kuzieva’s art is a notable phenomenon in the art of Uzbekistan. Ceramists themselves conventionally group themselves into ceramic artists and ceramists essentially. Kuzieva, no doubt, belongs to the former. Unique technology enables the master to create exclusive items distinct in their romantically elated imagery. Made with good knowledge of chamotte texture, they show subtle, emotionally charged plasticity, and their well-considered names in themselves are poetic characters.
Kuzieva finds expression forms well aligned with the actual aesthetic requirements of the environment. Her works are particularly interesting in terms of successfully balanced proportions between the traditional and the contemporary. For Kuzieva not only form is important, but also painting and design it bears.
In her art Kuzieva refers to poetic legends and ancient tales that inspire traditional architecture of Middle and Central Asia: a home and a burning fire in it – the symbol of eternal life. Quite originally expressed is the idea behind a series of forms different in the manner of workmanship, crowned by a tall cone and with a lamp inside that can be well seen through the oval opening, indicating entrance to the chamber. According to the master’s idea, the cones symbolize minarets – essential element of Islamic architecture. Each form has original design of gracefully interlaced islimi shoots or small round openings resembling stars in the sky, the Universe… A candle burning inside can be compared with the flame of creativity. These pieces have austerity, classical purity of proportions and noble style, representing a new level of artistic thinking and professional skill.
Kuzieva’s collection has miniature reproductions of the so-called balbals – the imitation of granite statues dating to the Turkic period of the VI-VII centuries, which reflected people’s belief in the power of stone images of their ancestors. The stones were installed on the graves of fallen warriors to be worshiped and brought sacrifices to. The artist’s sculptures strictly follow the pictorial canon characteristic of Turkic culture.
Kuzieva believes that art brings radiance into human life, making man kinder, and therefore happier. True art is moral as it evokes empathy, compassion and understanding of the mystery of creative process in one who perceives it.
Her quest for new plastic solution resulted in creating ceramic zoomorphic characters: a large butterfly with folded wings rising high; a fish with a wide back fin and a large tail almost equal in size to the fish. A series of her works are inspired by nature and the universe. Quite expressive is her “Roads” – a round flattened shape with painted surface resembling the earth’s globe, with two wavy parallel track lines tapering off, leading to nowhere. Her vases are original, too. “The Points of Intersection” is a spheroid shape with flattened sides and a white background on a low circular base, featuring single and double stripes pointing in different directions. A vase called “Painting” has a fan-shaped top and tall glass-like base; it is decorated with large and small Arabic ligature characters in coffee colour against greyish-white background. “The Four Corners of the World” is a tetrahedron with a small opening in the centre; convex upper face of the vase is lined with elongated pieces of chamotte clay as if in a circular motion. “Trace of the Wave” catches the eye and awakens memories of the sea ripples. Shaped as a wing is the piece called “Icarus”, where graphic elements such as dots and lines prompt one to discern the image of the legendary young man. There are also some peculiar tableware shapes such as “My Life”, “Man and Woman”, “A Girl from Bukhara”, “Judas”, etc.
Another strand of her art is installation. In 2005 Kuzieva participated in the VII show of the annual charity art festival in Mongolia, along with renowned artists from Europe, Asia and America, who make annual charity visits to introduce the public to classical and contemporary musical pieces. Kuzieva’s job was to design the festival and acquaint its audience with the work of contemporary artists of Uzbekistan. She has created two three-dimensional compositions. Installation called “Dedication” tells of love for music, of a flame that burns in the hearts of creators, of love for the beauty of the world, and of things eternal. Amalgam-coated music sign-symbols made of ordinary clay represented different instruments. They were suspended on springs amidst the branches of a saxaul tree, and, touching each other in the wind, created a peculiar sound. The installation was complemented with small spaced lamps. In the composition the artist tried to show the road, the way, and the entrance to the space of beauty and harmony. Another composition called “The Happy Owners” made of white and red stones created a visual image akin to traditional Mongolian narrative song similar to a steppe epic with its flowing, melodious musical rhythm. The installation has put together jingling bells reminding of life situations taken easy, a horseshoe for the awareness of attachment to family and home, and a few other elements that created an amazing harmony.
Kuzieva’s activity as the leader of the applied arts section is defined by her demanding and friendly personality, her ability to rejoice at the success of others, and, naturally, her ambitious goals. The section unites many young artists who, guided by their mentor, create new original works of art.
Nazira Kuzieva still has many ideas she intends to implement with an aim to further develop the art of Uzbek ceramics that is rooted in antiquity.

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