Round Table Issues and Prospects of Arts and Crafts Development in Uzbekistan

Issue #3 • 588

Opening the round table discussion, Doctor of Art History, Academician Akbar Khakimov said: Today’s meeting is dedicated to the discussion of arts and crafts related issues. I would like to thank the leadership of the Academy of Arts and the “San’at” Journal editorial board for organizing it. Over the period of independent development, our country has created economic and legal environment for fundamental positive changes in the domain of arts and crafts to help the industry flourish. However, these definitely positive changes have brought about art- and market-related issues, too. Thus, in a market environment, traditional artists began to adjust to client demands, which often results in plainly distasteful and kitsch products.  Today, the economic aspect is key to understanding the process of arts and crafts development.  The theme of this round table discussion is the relation between artistic craft and market economy.

In the last two centuries, applied art has taken two tragic blows.  The first one came in the late XIX century, when imports from Russia and commercial-scale manufacturing very negatively affected local handicraft traditions.  Embroidery and ceramics suffered the most.  Still, at that time private property did exist, and applied art remained very much market-driven.  The second blow to arts and crafts was delivered during the soviet era, when many craftsmen’s economic activity stopped as it was considered private enterprise forbidden by law.  In 1976 I was doing field work in Surkhandarya and learned that many traditional craftsmen, especially jewellers, dropped their craft because government authorities deprived them of an opportunity to sell their products.

In the years of independence private enterprise has been restored, and small business is developing successfully. The most important thing is that traditional master-craftsmen are now free to create and sell their product on the market, also enjoying tax benefits; so this aspect is no longer a problem. However, the broken tradition is striking. Field work performed in recent years has revealed, for instance, that weavers in Kashkadarya make small-size carpets, the composition and designs of which is copied from large kind have been found in ceramics as well.

The first thing masters should do is maintain tradition, which is not only techniques, patterns and colour range, but also manufacturing technology, materials, natural pigments… Among us is Madina Kasymbaeva, the embroiderer who mastered the art. However, living in Tashkent, Kasymbaeva restores Nurata embroidery rather than that of Tashkent. Why don’t they restore the Tashkent palak – large-size “togora palak” or “yulduz palak”?
Chasing has issues, too. Unfortunately, the demand for chased items has declined. In Bukhara I saw chasing masters who altered manufacturing technology, decorating their products with smalt colour inserts. Large lagan platters do not exit at all; only small size lagan are produced. In the Ferghana Valley, only Fazil Abidov follows the tradition. Zakirjan Gafurov is also trying to do it, but he, too, uses smalt and majolica insets, justifying it by the lack of demand for traditional lagan platters today.

The embroidery tradition has been broken by Feruza Omonova, another master representing Nurata embroidery. Catering to the needs of tourists, she changed the colours of traditional embroidery. Or, perhaps, the buyers’ demand is actually the requirement of our time? Let us talk about the issues of today’s market economy and of artistic tradition and art system, in terms of their interface and conflict.
Woodcarver Artyk Faizullaev, Academician:
Market economy has indeed introduced many changes to the carvers’ art. Masters adapt to the needs of the market, although this results in shallowness of their art. Artistic thinking, too, becomes backward, in my view. Economic incentives get stronger. People, especially young artisans, are keen on earning more. Yet I believe traditions have to be maintained. The main mission of the masters is to keep traditions going from one generation to the next. The real Usto should be concerned not only about profits, but also about art and its spiritual aspect.

Akbar Khakimov: Recently I have visited Bukhara, Samarqand, Khiva and Kokand, noting particularly numerous changes in woodcarving. Many artists no longer make items for everyday life: almost everyone caters to commercial orders for architectural projects. They open large workshops to manufacture carved doors, pillars and the like. For instance, usto Abdullaev from Kokand and his son Jahangir opened a large workshop. My conversation with them has revealed that small items do not bring profit. They take orders from Turkey and Russia to make large-size items. In Khiva the situation is the same: the Baybekov dynasty masters produce large items only, made to order. What is your view on it?

Artyk Faizullaev: This comes from each master’s attitude to his art and the requirements of time. It is true that small utility items do not yield much profit, and, therefore, are not given priority. However, the master should not forget his responsibility: we are to pass to the younger generation the traditions carefully preserved for us by the ancestors. One has to think about the next generation of masters, and we must teach our students the technique of making small items, and pass on the secrets of ornaments and designs.

Akbar Khakimov: Another issue is the usto-shoghird training system. Artyk-aka, for many years you taught at the Ben’kov art school, and your students came from different parts of the country. Did you teach them the traditions and wood-carving technique of the Tashkent school only, or did you explain the traditions of other wood-carving schools, too?
Artyk Faizullaev: I taught my students the basics of wood carving and wood treatment technology. I kept saying to the students from the provinces that each one has its own school of woodcarving, be it Samarqand, Kokand, or Khiva; I made them draw local ornaments in pencil, so that upon graduation from the college they could implement them in their art.
Shohalil Shoyakubov, Doctor of Philosophy in Art history: Professor Khakimov, you have noted today’s most relevant issues in the domain of arts and crafts.  Once at a conference I said that artisan is not the people’s master, and the people’s master is not an artisan.  Honestly, expounding these notions is the job of art critics writing loads on issues related to arts and crafts.  Our discourse involves not the artisans but people’s masters whom the critics unfortunately also refer to as artisans sometimes.  The students of Artyk-aka work all over Uzbekistan, most of them devoted to traditions.  However, in the 1980s-1990s, the Tashkent school of woodcarving began to dominate in both Samarqand and Khorezm.  Baybekov’s son from Khorezm, and even the grandson of Ata Palvan also wanted to follow this road.  One had to explain to them that the purity of tradition must be preserved.  In Kokand they also try to switch to the Tashkent method.  In Samarqand, too, many sites feature carved doors and pillars wrought by the method of Artyk-aka. Once we explained to the masters how they should work, things somehow changed.

There is a risk of losing some applied arts traditions. To avoid this, I believe there is a need to re-institute the arts council that existed before to evaluate masters’ work. In the absence of the arts council, many works of questionable value are produced; therefore, it should be re-established in the Academy of Arts. Another critical issue is that it has been a long time since our museums acquired objects of applied art. Unique items remain outside the field of vision of the museums, for instance, the works by father and son Rakhimovs, Madina Kasymbaeva, Shorasul Shorahmedov…
Mahmud Mamajanov, Chair of the Applied Arts Section of the Artists Union of Uzbekistan: When the Academy of Arts was first established, it had a special fund that purchased craftsmen’s products. Now it is time to re-establish the fund, with an arts council as part of its structure. The purchase of the most valuable items should be arranged again.

Masud Madaliev, chasing master: Currently the country has the Hunarmand Association, unfortunately, with the same membership terms for a master who makes hoes, and for the people’s master. Formerly, we had the Usto Association; all attending people’s masters came out of this Association, which did have the arts council and promoted the development of art. Nowadays, anyone paying a fee to the Hunarmand becomes its member. There should be some accountability.
Another problem is posed by the ban on the export of chased items. For a long time now Bukhara chasers have not been able sell or take their works abroad. Would it not be wonderful if people in different countries could admire the works of art created by our masters? It might be good to transfer the Art Expert Evaluation Panel under the Ministry for Culture and Sports to the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan.

Kamola Akilova, Doctor of Art History: Issues raised here are highly relevant, and the most critical one, in my opinion, is the development of a great master, to be educated and coached from a young age; and the training process should involve not only technological and artistic aspects, but also ethical ones. Festivals such as Yangi Avlod, Kelajak Ovozi, Navkiron Uzbekiston, and Asrlar Sadosi organized by the Forum Foundation, aim to develop applied arts, preserve traditions, and train young masters fit to maintain unique centuries-old traditions of the national art.
As Professor Khakimov noted, applied arts and crafts have survived heavy blows in the past two centuries. However, in those difficult years, great masters such as Usto Shirin Muradov, Yakubjan Raufov, Jalil Khakimov, Tahir Tokhtahojaev, Mahmud Usmanov, Mukhiddin Rakhimov and many others created works of high art.  It is true that some applied art forms and centres disappeared.  Over the years of independence the country has created the most enabling environment for arts and crafts to develop.  Many a project aimed to support the industry have been implemented.  Importantly, this process involves government agencies, community organizations, overseas foundations and centres alike.  Speaking of the impact the market economy has on arts, particularly on the applied arts and crafts, this is a problem not only in Uzbekistan, but also in the CIS countries and beyond.  There are masters who “bear” the market, as well as those who make popular products and kitsch. Yet, an “excursion” into history shows that traditional arts and crafts have always had both high classics, and more simplistic items to meet the needs of different segments of society. Still, as an art critic, I am for the idea of masters honing their professional skill, studying traditions, maintaining local authenticity, and refining their taste.

As regards acquisition, the National Bank for Foreign Economic Activity, for instance, allocates 50 million soums annually to the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan to purchase objects of art. The Gallery has almost 1,500 items of painting, drawing, and sculpture; and about 2,500 items in its numismatics collection. The Gallery’s assets grow every year. However, 50 million soums is not a big money. Today, taking taxes into account, this amount can buy six or seven paintings, two or three graphic works, and probably three or four sculptures. Recently the Gallery has acquired a gold coin of Amir Temur, with only five specimens of it still existing worldwide, and one of them is now kept in the collection of the National Bank. The value of the coin is estimated at 25 million soums, which actually constitutes half of the budget allocated for the art purchases. It is true that policy related to the acquisition of applied arts and crafts should be more proactive. Hence a question: which entity should be responsible for the purchase? Where the acquisitions should be stored? There is a need in an expert panel to select the items, as our contemporary masters create pieces that are unique.

Transferring the Art Expert Evaluation Panel to the Academy of Arts should indeed be considered, since it is mostly the objects of art that are assessed. Therefore, it would be appropriate for the Art Expert Evaluation Panel to operate within the structure of the Academy.

Another important point concerns a possibility for our artists to access international scene. Two years ago, with six artists, I organized the Traditional Crafts of Uzbekistan exhibition at the Carpet and Applied Arts Museum in the city of Baku. Taking part in the exhibitors were Madina Kasymbaeva and Shorasul Shorahmedov, also present here today. The local audience received our crafts with great enthusiasm. The matter is that Azerbaijan has almost no other crafts left, apart from carpet weaving. There are several reasons for this. First, the craftsmen of Azerbaijan pass their traditions and trade secrets to family members only. Therefore, a whole range of arts and crafts have disappeared. Also, Azerbaijan has experienced a very strong trend of Europeanization in the society, and this phenomenon produces an adverse effect on traditional arts and crafts.
In my view, the time is ripe for an international exhibition of arts and crafts, similar to the Tashkent Contemporary Art Biennale. There is no doubt that intercultural dialogue and exchange in the domain of arts and crafts will facilitate not only the conservation, but also further development of these arts.

Tuhtamurod Zufarov, People’s Master of Uzbekistan, the maker of musical instruments: It is known that Uzbek music is performed on many instruments. At one time, Socrates and a certain philosopher argued about the type of musical instruments to use for educating young people. When Socrates said that the instruments should be of a high, sonorous register, the philosopher countered: ‘No, we should bring up our young with instruments that can produce sounds similar to the way the nai can. High-pitch music may make the younger generation loose its national identity.’

Artist of Uzbekistan, Usto Zufar Usmanov spent all his life making musical instruments. In the soviet times they introduced the European practice of Andreev, and the temperament of traditional instruments began. The sound of gijak and other musical instruments has changed. Unfortunately, as Shohalil Shoyakubov said, this business is now a “conveyor belt” operation; besides, the process of making instruments has been mechanized, and the materials are different. Another problem is the lack of traditionally made instruments in music schools, even in the conservatory.
Madina Kasymbaeva, embroidery master: I aspire to restore Nurata and Shahrisabz embroidery, due to high demand. The restoration of the Tashkent embroidery, however, would be a challenging process that would require at least a year or two. The palak technique is rather complex. If there is no demand

for the restored embroidery, time and profit would be lost, and I would not be able to pay my students for their effort. In our work we use only natural dyes. To take the process in the right direction, it is essential to organize a solo sale-exhibition or to display the items at an international show.
Academician Akbar Rakhimov, ceramist: Reviving a school should be linked with a project. For instance, I restored the Shakhrisabz school of ceramics, and the two-year project was implemented in cooperation with UNESCO and the Forum Foundation. Reviving a school takes not only time but also funding. Say, to restore the Tashkent embroidery, Madina Kasymbaeva would have to dedicate all her time to the project. It took me eight years to prepare the revival of the Shakhrisabz ceramics – time I studied the ornaments, technology, drawings…

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