Sandy expanse of the Karakum desert, mountains and mountain plateaus, the Caspian shore and Amudarya River have inspired many a generation of Turkmenistan painters to create original and non-ordinary pieces. At the end of 2012, a display at the Tashkent House of Photography presented the works of renowned Turkmen artists, among them Baiberdy Berdiev, Annageldy Zhumaniyazov, Mamed Yarmamedov and Dilorom Yakubova. The exposition, meetings with students of the Behzad National Institute of Arts and Design, and visits to the Tashkent showrooms came as natural continuation of the cultural dialogue between the two countries and reciprocated the exhibition of Uzbek artists in Ashgabat in 2011. Uzbek art critics and connoisseurs had a chance to learn about the art of contemporary Turkmen masters of the brush, whose works synthesize academic and avant-garde approaches, national motifs and global values.
For the residents and guests of Tashkent, paintings by the Turkmen artists opened the door to a universe where invisible lines connect the man with nature that symbolizes the world imagined as a carpet of life spread before the eyes of the traveller. Mountains, hills and villagers’ cabins are animated and inseparable from humans and animals. They are part of a common fabric, where the master creates his little story of an ordinary man and his hopes, and shares his thoughts and emotions with the audience.
In recent years, genre painting has become quite prominent in the Turkmen art. This is evidenced by the fact that art galleries increasingly often exhibit pictures showing traditional rituals, customs, games, women at needlework, and rural life subjects.
Established in the last 20 years, the State Fine Arts Academy of Turkmenistan plays a major role in developing and maintaining continuity of representational art, as well as monumental sculpture, in the country where the Academy graduates have joined the ranks of the Artists Union. The art of young- and older-generation masters, including artists who visited our country, is fairly well represented in Turkmenistan and beyond. For instance, the exhibitions of Turkmen painters, sculptors and jewellers ran in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Iran, Austria, Saudi Arabia and Russia (Turkmen artists took part in the 2009 Moscow International Art Salon at the Central House of Artists). Still, many artists from the neighbouring country feel stronger connection with Uzbekistan than could be explained by the commonality of oriental motifs. Among them are masters who once studied the basics of painting at the Tashkent Theatre and Art Institute named after Ostrovsky (presently, the State Institute of Arts), such as Annageldy Zhumaniyazov and Mamed Yarmamedov who displayed their works at the THP exhibition.
Zhumaniyazov began his creative quest in the mid 1990s. Then a young artist, he was drawn to the fascinating and vivid colours of traditional arts and crafts of the land and Asian motifs where each pattern and line in a geometric or vegetable ornament represent ancient wisdom and are profoundly meaningful. Later, Zhumaniyazov brought his experience with applied arts into painting. Hence comes the guchok (sheep’s head) pattern that is easily recognized in his abstract compositions; it resembles a pair of strong arms akimbo that symbolize powerful masculinity. By and large, Zhumaniyazov’s paintings not only relate to the national origins, but also reflect the master’s rich and unique inner world. His landscapes radiate a peculiar energy and are not easy to interpret: having to do with universal cosmic space, they invite a lot of thinking and appear to be an important part of Zhumaniyazov’s art.
“A thing most important for me in the picture?” – Annageldy Zhumaniyazov ponders my question. “I guess it’s colour, which is not always bright, as I use muted tones, too. It is very important, through the combination of different colours, to convey the mood in a painting. This is how “Silence”, “The Lost Moon”, and “Lunar Mountains” came into being. The latter two are inspired by my visit to the Lunar Province as we called it in Turkmenistan, a place not far from Iranian border. I was impressed not only by the shape of the mountains in this area, but also by their lighting that made me think of extraterrestrial worlds.”
Mamed Yarmamedov also sourced his inspiration in his native land to create a whole series of paintings. Yet the way the master perceives and interprets the world is entirely different from that of A. Zhumaniyazov. Yarmamedov’s “Nuhur” series of 30 paintings was presented at his solo exhibition in Ashgabat. The Tashkent audience who saw only five of them could sense the master’s perpetual spiritual searching and his desire to go beyond the conventional ideas of painting. Like the famous Turkmen carpet, his canvases combine the elements of decorative ornaments, arabesques, scenes from the life of ordinary people, and eternal philosophical themes. Yarmamedov’s canvases have several compositional planes at once, which have to do not only with the laws of perspective. Gradually, the viewer gets infected with the same thoughts that preoccupy the master. It seems as if together with the inhabitants of a distant village of Nuhur located in the heart of the mountains he goes to an early morning prayer, or welcomes the matchmakers together with the bride’s relatives, or joins the merchants on their long journey to an oriental market… Yet life interests the artist not only in its day-to-day manifestations. Perhaps this is why old men on their long-distance journey seem to be hovering over the village, illuminated by the rays of a setting sun; or the rocks by the road are so tellingly silent: warmed by the soft light streaming from the mud houses, these rocks are the involuntary witnesses of people’s destinies.
Nuhur is a village that makes one abandon world’s vanity and start contemplating the timeless truths as one comes into contact with the nation’s origins, traditions and customs – treasured and passed on from generation to generation. This is how painter Baiberdy Berdiev saw this mountain village. “For me, the most important thing in art is to avoid imitation. I like to depict rituals and the old lifestyle of the Turkmen people”, says the artist. The subject-matter of Berdiev’s paintings is reflected in the titles of his works: “Wedding”, “Guests”, “Bride”, “Shepherd”, “Dusk”…
The works of Dilorom Yakubova, another Turkmen artist, have special magnetism and expressivity; they are not associated with any specific place or event, but refer to the universal human problems. She was not able to come to Tashkent personally, but her paintings “Starry Night”, “Autumn in the Desert”, and “The East” told the viewer about her personality more eloquently than any words could do.
Here is the delegation leader Babasary Annamuradov, the renowned sculptor, People’s Artist of Turkmenistan and the Chair of the country’s Artists Union, on the event: “The works presented at the Turkmenistan artists’ exhibition show trends in the visual arts such as avant-garde, realism, and naturalism. However, they are always founded in Turkmen motifs and mentality typical of our land. The Turkmen artists are distinguished by good colouristic skill and ornamental quality of their works, which excited keen interest among the public in Paris, where we also exhibited these paintings. Perhaps, if one compared their art with the global one, it would turn out to be more naturalist, rather than anything else. Yet I am convinced that no matter which form one uses to communicate ideas and emotions through art, there are only few themes that life offers: nature, motherhood, war, peace, and happiness. An artistic solution we choose to present those themes gives rise to different currents in art. It is important to find one’s own way rather than follow the road already trodden by others, and only then success and recognition can be attained.”