Tashkent is a cultural centre recognized not only in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, but also in other parts of the world. In recent years, the government has supported the implementation of several major international cultural projects, including the Tashkent International Biennale of Contemporary Art.
Since the time the Tashkent Biennale was first organized, it has gained the status of a specific art event, the interest in which has increased in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. This year, the event produced an impressive statistics: 44 countries and 245 artists, including 105 from abroad and 140 from Uzbekistan. These figures do not reflect the number of applications received by the Biennale Organizing Committee, which carefully selected the participants. This year’s exposition unfolded in ten venues: the Central Exhibition Hall, the Tashkent House of Photography, the Bekhzad Museum, the Ikuo Hirayama International Caravanserai of Culture, the Palace of Young People’s Art, the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan, the Uzbekistan Culture and Art Showroom, the State Fine Arts Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts, and the Chorsu Gallery in Samarqand.
Biennale theme, “Different Cultures – One World”, is not accidental. At a science-to-practice conference one of the speakers shared his view on the proximity of the theme to the ideas of multiculturalism, which currently causes controversy in Europe. Multiculturalism is a philosophical problem still under study. As noted by I. Mammadzade, “In principle, multiculturalism is an attitude to both the other (heterogeneous) foundations of one’s culture, and to other cultures in general. As we can see, it implies recognition of multiple foundations in every culture and recognizes the value of cultural interaction and dialogue for any culture” (1, p. 381). In today’s polycultural space, multiculturalism is particularly relevant.
Great cultural diversity was demonstrated by artists who presented their work at the exhibition, with a contest programme in two areas: contemporary fine arts (painting, drawing, sculpture), and Postmodern art (installation, video art, photo art, performance, etc.).
Biennale was opened by the display of contemporary painting of Karakalpakstan in the State Fine Arts Museum that exhibited the works of A. Kudaibergenov, B. Serekeev, U. Saparov, A. Rajapov, B. Tajimuratov, S. Baibosinov, D. Tajimuratov, Zh. Izentaev, Zh. Lepesov, G. Embergenova, and other artists. It should be noted that a project involving Karakalpak artists was implemented for the first time in the framework of the Tashkent Biennale.
Not only foreign guests, but also local audience got to discover the works of Toir Sharipov, artist of multifaceted talent from Samarqand, pursuing his creative inquiry in painting, patchwork, and tapestry. The spirit of experimentation, freedom of expression, and the use of materials and elements of traditional culture in his avant-garde pieces produced strong impression. Appropriately, Maria Tsantsanoglùu, Director of Modern Art Museum (Thessaloniki, Greece) observed that one of the characteristic features of the Tashkent Biennale is the appeal of contemporary artists to the aesthetics of traditional culture, its codes and symbols; in other words, synthesis of post-modern and traditional culture.
Official opening of the Biennale took place in the Palace of Young People’s Art, presenting the projects by Nick Sayers (UK) and Noriko Yamamoto (Japan), and an exhibition called “In Search of the East” displaying the works of renowned contemporary artists of Uzbekistan, such as G. Kadirov, M. Isanov, R. Akramov, A. Nur, L. Ibragimov, G. Ibragimov, Sh. Abdullaeva, M. Karabaev, F. Ahmadaliev, and others. The exposition based on the collage principle of mixing the works of foreign and local artists, without a dedicated national showroom as was the case during previous Biennale displays, allowed outlining the contours of contemporary art, sometimes through contrast, sometimes through affinity and consonance of styles. Thus, Nick Sayers’ project, “Show home i Z waste”, encompassing photographs and installation, reflected the artist’s quest in synthesizing fine art with mathematical calculation. Synthesis of mathematics and art, the rational and the poetic, and the desire to find precise, mathematical foundations of visual art have resulted in interesting art objects demonstrated by the artist from London. Japanese artist Noriko Yamamoto in her project called “Theory of Everything” visualized the concept of human perception incapable of taking in all incoming information. Her installation showed books with carved circles symbolizing a tiny fraction of information and knowledge that human brain can perceive. These two projects, in a way, tuned the Biennale style in the dominant key of original concept in contemporary art.
An exposition in the Tashkent House of Photography presented not only projects by art curators Mauro Magrini (Italy), D. Ozer (Turkey), Kim Tae Jun and Lee Soyoung (Korea), but also works of artists B. Frank (Israel), G. Katsangelos (Greece), A. Lam and A. Tam (Hong Kong), and Uzbek photographers V. Sokolov, P. Kim, S. Magai, N. Sunnatova… The exposition was complemented with special projects: “The Last Samurai: Mysterious Japan” (Japan); Chinese comics by artists Lu Ming, Ni Changrui, Pang Bangben, Wang Kevai, Jia Li An, Zhang Hiaoyu, as well as installation and performance by E. Lyapina. Seriality as an exhibition principle dominated at the Biennale, allowing full exposure of each author’s creed, his train of thought, topic selection, and conceptual search.
The exposition in the THP, as the subsequent one in the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan, provided an opportunity to feel the powerful and dynamic development of different trends in Postmodern art in Asia and the Pacific. Works presented by artists from Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines reflect a phenomenon known as “compost-modernism”, and a trend such as “de-localized space” where “new optical unconscious reveals itself as something that, although created by human civilization, has become a self-sufficient and inhuman, non-cultural and extra-natural mechanism of planetary scale” (2, p. 337).
A broad spectrum of creative inquiry, from neo-realism to abstractionism, was presented by artists from Arab countries: Mostafa Mohamed Saad Abdalsamia, Walid Jahin (Egypt), Salim Al Owaisi, Radhika Mahendra Chaturbhuj (Oman), Alalmae Fae Yahya and Binzyman Hamad (Saudi Arabia). Despite the specificity of contemporary art in different countries, Biennale artefacts give reason to believe that regional-specific approach to studying it remains relevant.
Many original projects and auteur pieces were presented at the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan. In front of the CEH building, young artist A. Lamanov created an installation called “ß” [“I”] in the shape of the Russian alphabet letter made of huge matches. On the ground floor, visitors were greeted by an installation of Y. Alagir “Source of the Centuries Knowledge” – a reflection of the artist’s quest in the style of shaman-art with its signature visual imagery and symbolism. For the first time the Biennale displayed the original sketch by the famous Uzbek artist Lekim Ibragimov for his mega-project “One Thousand and One Angel” claiming an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. The value of Ibragimov’s creative quest is his aspiration to expose profound spirituality of oriental culture called to take man away from the secular stratum of existence and assert the value of things true and sacred. He seems to be following the principle: the artist’s greatest gift is to discern and embody the hidden rhythm of the entire universe.
The CEH first floor space was truly the world of many faces. An integral exposition took in projects and work series by artists from different countries. Quite interesting is a large-scale project by V. Useinov, “Geometry of Time”, summarizing the artist’s quest of many years and bringing together his works created in different years in patchwork, chiy technique, tapestry and installation. Some art critics may find it controversial to include these seemingly traditional forms of arts and crafts in the system of contemporary art, and even more so – in Postmodern art. In our opinion, this matter should be considered individually, case by case. For instance, Useinov masterfully, professionally and highly artfully employs textile technique. Yet in this case the most important thing is the artist’s conceptual thinking raised to the high degree of philosophical content. For him, textile is a means of expressing profoundly meaningful concept. In terms of style, one can draw analogies between his works and a postmodernist trend known as “ethnics”; however, one cannot but notice the difference between Useinov’s works and the works of foreign artists pursuing this trend. Useinov’s project consists of several semantic layers, and in this sense it is universal: the abduction of swastika, one of the most ancient symbols in traditional oriental culture; the dialogue of religions; geometric pattern as a spatial base, changing its appearance in time, etc. Every epoch has its own geometry, but every geometry, too, has its own time…
Every foreign artist participating in the Biennale brought in not only a particular piece of work, but also the Here and Now of his country’s contemporary art, where one could sense, apart from the author’s personality, preserved or abandoned national identity and the dominant vectors in the development of art in the Postmodern era in different countries. Among these artists are Lia Shvelidze and Mamuka Tsetskhladze (Georgia), Inna Kostina (Azerbaijan), Anatoliy Shmuel Shelest (Israel), Pavel Voinitsky (Belarus), Radhika Mahendra Chaturbuj (Oman), A. Dmitriev (Russia), Tammy Keldr and Marie-Liis (Estonia), A. Naumov and K. Zarrins (Latvia), Y. Coskun (Turkey), B. Asanova (Kazakhstan), He Jinway, Wang Chaogang, Chen Weimin, Lee Jikay (China), and many other authors whose work stood out for the freedom of expression. Specific mention should be given to the young artists from Azerbaijan: F. Farzaliev and R. Kazimov who represent an organization called “Yarat: Free Art Space”; it unites people of different generations to support contemporary art of Azerbaijan and represent the interests of Azerbaijani artists at home and abroad, while creating space for intercultural dialogue. While the works by Farzaliev appealed to the visual codes of Azerbaijani kalgai shawls, Kazimov’s art impressed with its honest display of extreme states of human soul, in the style of German expressionism.
The audience was quite impressed by the “Portraits of Central Asia” by Ronald Kleier (Netherlands), who has been living in Tashkent for many years to find his original themes and forms of creative expression.
Laudable works were also presented by Uzbek painters B. Ismailov, B. Muhamedov, S. Kurtjemil, I. Valihojaev, V. Khapov, Sh. Abdumalikov, A. Tyurin, A. Nasreddinov, T. Fadeeva, T. Karimov; sculptors M. Borodina, B. Mukhtarov, G. Sultanov, L. Nesterovich; and graphic artist A. Mamajanov, demonstrating high standard of the national school of fine arts.
Exposition in the Behzad Museum began with a grandiose installation by Smail Bayaliev (Kazakhstan) dedicated to mustangs – one of the dominant symbols in the culture of nomads. Made of felt, it synthesized monumental sculpture and installation, and conveyed the idea of aspiring to freedom and the spirit of vast steppes. Bayaliev represents Shymkent school in contemporary art of Kazakhstan; he is the artist of great potential, who also uses codes from his own traditional culture. Quite interesting was the display of Turkmen artists Chary Yazmuradov and Mamed Yarmammedov. American video art was represented by artist Greg Banana (USA). A peculiar installation was shown by F. Ahmadaliev.
Works by artists exploring different forms and genres of contemporary art were introduces to the audience visiting the Ikuo Hirayama International Caravanserai of Culture. Contemporary art of Korea was demonstrated by Okh Seok Kwon, Sang Hyun Kim, Lee Soh Young, Kim Hedon, Byak Bu Il, Han Hyen Sem, and others.
The audiences and art connoisseurs discovered the art of Josephine Turalba (Philippines), working in painting, installation and performance. While keeping her images and subjects ethnically and cultural recognizable, the author naturally weaves them into the system of Contemporary Art. Personal life collisions have become primary themes explored by the artist.
Biennale expositions in the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan included: solo exhibitions of painter M. Vardanyan and sculptor K. Norhurozov; project by D. Ruzybaev “Jazz in Colours”; project “Dimensions of the Invisible World”; an international project by a group called “Finding Us”; video-art by Urich Lao Wai Yuen (Singapore); installation by Lee Tal (Korea); the works of B. Jalalov, Z. Saeedjanov, M. Abdullaev, A. Isaev, and others. The project of the “Finding Us” group engaged artists from Korea, Montenegro, Serbia, Spain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Denmark, and Poland. Not only did the project match the Biennale theme, it also demonstrated the dialogue of cultures through the representatives of different countries, schools, styles and postmodernist trends, united by a common theme of “Finding Us”.
Visitors and participants of the Biennale showed keen interest in the “Exhibition of Culture and Art of Uzbekistan” in the Chorsu Gallery in Samarqand.
The VII Tashkent International Biennale of Contemporary Art demonstrated the diversity of Postmodern art in different countries. The Biennale cultural landscape may not have covered all currents and trends in contemporary art that exist worldwide. Most likely, it would have been impossible. Therefore, contemporary art biennale events in different countries have specific thematic orientation. For instance, the Beijing Biennale focuses on realistic art; the Moscow one shows the stars and attainments of European and American art of the last two decades; and the one in Istanbul conceptualizes political aspects, particularly the traditional “Left” perspective in art.
Analyzing the past contemporary art biennales in Tashkent, one can say that they focused on preserving art’s national identity in the era of Postmodernism and globalization. Many works presented by local and foreign artists, their innovative searching notwithstanding, carried certain genetic codes of their own culture. In those instances when an artist abandoned it, one could see the results of cross-cultural diffusion, which, again, also has the right to exist and develop in contemporary art.
With all the differences in styles and trends in contemporary art, the Tashkent International Biennale has been able to unite very different artists with diverging worldview, perceptions, and understanding of the world. The dialogue of cultures has happened, which is the most important.