On September 14, 2013, the Karakalpakstan branch of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, in collaboration with the SAN’AT Journal, hosted a roundtable discussion on issues related to the development of contemporary fine art in Karakalpakstan, which concern many professionals working in this field. The roundtable has become yet another event in the series of meetings that bring artists together with an aim to address topical problems in the development of arts in Uzbekistan.
The round table discussion was led by Kamola Akilova, Doctor of Art History: “This roundtable is dedicated to matters concerning the development of contemporary fine art of Karakalpakstan. Our artists and art critics showed keen interest in holding the round table in Nukus, as the fine art of Karakalpakstan has its own specific features of national peculiarity and national perception of the world, drawing attention to its unusual themes and special flavour. Karakalpak people have ancient history, and thus a wonderful heritage of arts and crafts, folklore, traditional music, etc. When they say ‘Karakalpakstan’, one of its culture and art trademarks that come to mind is the unique collection of the Savitskiy State Art Museum known throughout the world. The art of each region in Uzbekistan preserves, or aspires to preserve, its unique cultural traditions. The question is, to what extent we preserve our cultural traditions and whether we are willing to integrate into contemporary world’s art? Keeping the national identity in the post-modern era is one of the relevant and also rather complex problems. I would like to start our discussion by giving the floor to Javlon Umarbekov, People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, Academician of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan.”
Javlon Umarbekov: “The issues raised in our meeting are very relevant, and we are grateful to the organizers for bringing together creative people, as we are somewhat disconnected. The reasons are many: long distances, personal and work-related problems… Yet an artist should regularly communicate with people who also engage in creative work in different parts of the country, each of them unique. What hinders our development? Perhaps, a certain recess in the development of art, which has occurred for one reason: there is no enthusiasm for learning! When our generation were students, we regularly went outdoor to do studies in the city and in the suburbs, carrying our painter’s cases and sketchpads along, proud to be artists. Today, students with sketch-blocks or pads are nowhere to be seen. They feel shy to work in a crowd or in the street. And how can one learn to paint and to love nature without making an effort? This is more a matter of propaganda. The SAN’AT Journal propagates art-related news, introduces new names, and publishes articles on problematic issues. However, this is not enough.
Art should keep evolving, regardless of the hardships. For example, in the difficult times of 1920s-1930s, new trends emerged in the art world, and new avant-garde artists appeared. For instance, the “Black Square” by Kasimir Malevich was the centre of attention of art connoisseurs from all over the world. Traditional art of Central Asia attracts many artists. Masters from all parts of the country came here to become our national authors. They saw the art from within, could feel it with their soul, and this was not an exotic interest, but getting into it with their whole being. The works of Ben’kov, Volkov, and Usto Mumin can never be mistaken for those of other artists, because they are unique and profoundly national. Karakalpak people have rich heritage of traditional art, yet this is not reflected in the exposition displayed in the Museum of the Karakalpakstan branch of the Academy of Arts. French Impressionists sourced their themes and colours in oriental art, and your artists do not need to stretch themselves! Once at an exhibition I saw the work of one Karakalpak artist: a man holding a fish. Everything is simple and clear. This was the work by Saparov – nothing redundant in it, a wonderful piece! Work independently and do not imitate others. Students can get education anywhere, but they should work, adhering to traditions.”
Kamola Akilova: “In the formation of artistic mind natural landscape plays an important role, as it fixes a certain genetic code through images, subjects, motifs, characters, and symbols. That is, essentially, natural landscape is closely linked to the cultural landscape. Speaking of the cultural landscape of Karakalpakstan, one certainly cannot but mention the Savitskiy State Art Museum and its unique collection that produces strong and productive influence on the Karakalpak artists. The floor goes to Marinika Babanazarova”.
Marinika Babanazarova, Director of the State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan named after I. V. Savitskiy: “Javlon Umarbekov touched upon many issues and interesting topics, which resonate deeply in the hearts of people in this room and those who contribute as much as they can to the development or continuation of traditions of the Karakalpak fine art. Dr. Akilova has correctly described the role of the State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan named after Igor Vitalyevich Savitskiy, famous artist who made a great contribution to the establishment of our national school of fine arts. Savitskiy had a keen sense for the land and loved it; and we always draw this analogy: Paul Gauguin – Tahiti; Igor Savitskiy – Karakalpakstan, the land of harsh nature, now with environmental problems on top; yet this was the land that inspired Savitskiy when he created his works dedicated to the nature of Karakalpakstan. He was very fond of this place and drew attention of Karakalpak artists to its special qualities. Our land abounds with ancient monuments, has a unique landscape and ancient culture, and our museum serves as a gene pool of this culture and a repository of national values.
We live in the time of change, in the age of market economy, trying to support the artists through art shops and jobs of some other kind, to preserve the art school. We hold exhibitions of our artists, and promote traditional arts. For instance, recently, we made our showroom available for a solo exhibition of two young artists: local Saidbek Sabirbaev, and Gairat Ibragimov from Tashkent. This was another attempt of the museum to support local artists, to help them evolve and move forward. Promoting art, we take our “Museum on Wheels” project out to rural schools. I find today’s roundtable meeting useful and thank the organizers. Such meetings are important not only for artists and art promoters, but also for officials who should support us in solving our problems”.
Kamola Akilova: “In recent years, artistic connections between regions are being restored. The Academy of Arts regularly organizes travelling exhibitions, workshops, and meetings with artists on the ground. Cultural life has to be rich and interesting both in the centre and in the provinces, which is very important not only for cultural process, but also for the education of young people. For example, recently, the exhibition hall of the Karakalpakstan branch of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan hosted master-classes with L. Ibragimov, B. Jalalov, A. Allaberganov, F. Akhmadaliev – our famous artists and painting masters. Today, another master-class will be delivered by Academician Javlon Umarbekov. This format of exchange among artists, generations, and trends is essential for the development of art.”
Atakhon Allaberganov, Academician of the Academy of Arts (Khorezm Province) noted: “Indeed, Karakalpak traditions are rooted in deep antiquity, and their uniqueness is evident. To reflect this uniqueness in art one has to work with precision and concentration. The current level of student training is weak compared to the schooling of our time. Without learning the basics of pictorial art they try to discover new ways to realize their creativity. Many do not have a sense of colour. Avant-garde artists, for example, are known for their sharp drawing and a striking sense of colour. Young artists should study colour in nature, in the environment. One should not be looking for an easy way; it is impossible to reach the goal without understanding the core of a problem.”
Tamara Urazimova, Doctor of Philosophy in Art History, lecturer at the Nukus Pedagogical Institute named after Ajiniyaz: “Pictorial art of Karakalpakstan is a young phenomenon. It has gone through several stages of development and has not fully bloomed. I would like to focus on one of these stages.
The art of the late twentieth century saw changes, which manifested themselves not only and not so much in what was reflected by art and how. The critical period affected the overall situation in art that was loosing old and gaining new ground for its development through the milestones of history. During this period, many artists, confused, stopped working, and only few of them who were initially guided by the centuries-old national traditions continued to create, employing applied art motifs in their work. Others turned to the “primitivism” in subject and pictorial and plastic forms. This was the time for an in-depth interpretation of both form and content of the national art.
Past as an object of artistic interpretation, undoubtedly, became an unquestionable value for all art forms. Therefore, it would be appropriate to highlight this aspect of treating traditional artistic heritage as a dominant one in the characteristic of the fine art of Karakalpakstan. For example, Kydyrbai Saipov found his own national theme in portraying nature of Karakalpakstan, actually making a big step forward. Today, pictorial art of Karakalpakstan as an artistic phenomenon is largely inert, the most significant development weaknesses being a superficial approach to searching and selecting a theme, and, consequently, the absence of full volume and depth in presenting the real world. The works of some artists are dominated by a stereotype, a certain template of an image that travels from one piece to another.
The “confusion” of artists should probably be regarded as a timeout they took before making a major new start. Thus, the most difficult challenge for an actively working artist is still to portray the world in such a way that would accurately reflect his feelings of elation, love and amazement from exposure to nature, people, and the infinite universe. At the same time, the problem of interconnection of new, contemporary, and actual will always remain on the agenda for pictorial art.”
Javlon Umarbekov, in response to the statement of Tamara Urazimova: “On school. Pirosmani was a house-painter. He painted everywhere; he did not have teachers, paints, brushes… But he had the soul, and he loved his people, his land. And he painted what he saw, what he could feel with his heart and soul. That’s what this is all about. You are saying there is no theme, yet themes are all around you for the painting – nature, earth, traditions, the Aral Sea at last. Paradoxically, with everything in plain view, the artists do not know what to paint.”
Aizada Nurymbetova, national costume designer: “Artists are always searching for something new. They need inspiration. One has to exhibit one’s works more often, taking different opportunities. Soon the city of Muinak will host an ecological festival, and all of you can participate.”
Kamola Akilova: “I think that as part of the 7th Tashkent International Biennale of Contemporary Art we could organize an exhibition of contemporary pictorial art of Karakalpakstan in Tashkent. This could be a separate exhibition project introducing Tashkent audiences and foreign guests of the Biennale not only to Karakalkak artists, but also to the region at large, with its unique culture and traditions.”
Zhenis Lepesov, artist and pedagogue, Honoured Mentor of Uzbekistan: “Specialist School of the Karakalpak branch of the Academy of Arts has many attainments, but its problems are also numerous. We teach talented children, but we are short of qualified pedagogues and learning materials; there is no good quality paints, paper, or brushes. We have to make use of what is available. Many gifted children live in remote areas and have little knowledge about fine arts, while we are unable to take them in our school as it is difficult for parents to support them financially. Lately, the students of our school seldom receive invitation, children get anxious as they want to take part in contests and exhibitions to demonstrate their skill. They wonder why they do not participate in international contests, as they used to do. We ask for any feasible assistance and support in tackling this seemingly trivial yet important problem for us.”
Kamola Akilova: “Your children and young people are welcome to take part in different exhibitions we organize in the Palace of Young People’s Art in Tashkent. Also, please apply for participation in the International Biennale of children’s drawings and other contests running in Tashkent and other cities. We shall definitely try to help your children who should learn to love art and be able to admire the world’s beauty from an early age. Childhood impressions are remembered throughout a lifetime. May not all children become artists, but the sense of beauty discovered in childhood, and the spirit of art and creation will stay with them all their life.”
Sarsen Baibosinov, artist: “Things heartfelt and remembered will make a lasting impression. Our national art is unique and has been reflected in the works of many authors. Local school is a special one; it was and is there today. It just may be that now art does not always show concepts such as love and kindness – qualities that could be felt in the works of artists of the recent past. Times are changing, and every period dictates its own order. Perhaps in the past, when local art was developing rapidly, artists felt full support and interest. But today’s young artists are somewhat confused; it will pass, because we all can see changes that have taken place in recent years: an influx of new energy, and new names of talented artists whose works, freshly interpreted, become part of the Karakalpak art.”
Abadan Saparova, composer, Director of the Karakalpakstan Branch of the Republican “Golden Heritage” Foundation (Oltin Meros): “Our Foundation on a regular basis collaborates with creative people. Many of them are women working in the domain of arts. We always try to maintain traditions, customs and achievements of schools, and even in the ornamentation of modern costumes we employ traditional embroidery elements. Uzbek composers and people of arts have always stayed together. This year we work closely with the Karakalpakstan branch of the Academy of Arts, participate in its activities, and gladly share our experience and ideas. We suggested that artists make portraits of women living today in Karakalpakstan and working in the field of culture, art, science and education. For the International Women’s Day marked on the 8th of March, in the building of the State Music and Drama Theatre named after Berdakh, a wonderful exhibition called “The World of Beauty” was organized; it was attended by both artists and their models. Our artists have a lot to teach to gifted young people. Perhaps, a specialist school or an art college could be opened for their professional training.”
Zafara Aliyeva, Doctor of Philosophy in Art History: “Historically, the Karakalpak had no fine arts, which apparently was the manifestation of their specific mentality. Nowadays, the nation’s applied arts are closely connected with the abstract means of expression cultivated on the soil of observing nature. Conventional and stylized image, i.e. the ornamental scheme, allows expressing the essence of the world order, providing emotional comfort, and finally, meeting aesthetic needs of a human being. High-level mastery of those who created the works of art ensured the diversity of their forms, ornaments and colour solutions. Amazing are the old specimens of embroidery, jewellery, carpet weaving and wood-carving, while popular and “recognizable” symbols in the designs secured their variability and sustainability through centuries in the ethnic environment. Traditional craft is a conceptual fount for the development of visual arts, yet one should study its content with an aim of not only to feel, but also to conceptualize its essence. Traditional art accumulates creative experience that can be adapted and successfully applied in today’s environment, transformed in the key of new morphogenesis.
Abstract form of expression can also be found in the Karakalpak oral tradition known for its strong metaphor filled with pathos, as well as its dynamic stories, mystical characters, etc. It has always served as a pillar of the nation’s artistic culture, showing the diversity of characters and themes, and representing its ethnic identity.
The adaptation of folk traditions in fine arts can be tracked using Karakalpak sculpture as example. Since 1960s, wood has remained sculptors’ preferred material: its availability, its plastic and textural qualities have always been valued by traditional craftsmen. Wood was used to make musical instruments, household utensils, chests, carts, yurts, etc. Genetic memory has not allowed the woodworking craft to fade away, and in the XX century it transformed into Karakalpak sculpture. In search of a character, the same memory led sculptors into an epic track, drawing their attention to the stories about ancient steppe idols. Boundless scope in the implementation of plastic ideas identified an associative-metaphorical line in morphogenesis and a solution for philosophical theme in decorative crafts and oral tradition. This is an entire trend in Karakalpak sculpture, which evolved in the very beginning and entrenched there, while in Karakalpak painting its position is noticeably weaker.
Karakalpakstan is rich in talented artists who established the school and whose experience one can learn from; among them are Zh. Kuttymuratov, A. Shpade, B. Serekeev, Zh. Lepesov, S. Baibosynov, a wonderful designer G. Embergenova, and traditional crafts master A. Nurymbetova. I would like to share my impression from a graduation work by Bazarbai Serekeev Junior, a graduate of the Behzad National Institute of Arts and Design. He created a series of compositions under the general title “Aral, My Pain”; its two paintings realistically depict the “ships graveyard” on what used to be a seabed. The landscape is rather surreal. In pursuit of plastic expression, the author employed a complex technique of mixing oil paints, acrylic, pigment and natural sand; rough contrast of smooth surfaces and large pastoso stroke. Large masses either protrude in menacing silhouettes, or fragment as if making a gnashing sound of rusty metal. One can sense disharmony in the world, and life perceived as drama. These are the convincing manifestation of grim “installation” forms. The third composition, “Aral, My Hope”, metaphorically illustrates the hopes of people tirelessly waiting for the big water to come. Serene story is interpreted through the poetic image of an expecting young woman. A note of optimism sounds in the colouring and texture of the canvas painted with almost liquid oil. This is the image of the source and the symbol of life going on, no matter what it brings.”
Zholdas Turdymuratov: “Today’s roundtable brought together many workers of culture of the republic. I would like to note that the future of our art depends largely on those masters who once learned from their teachers. However, nowadays, many artists for some reason do not want to work in schools to pass on their knowledge and experience to the next generation. I believe this is not right. We have always had the ustoz – shogird, mentor-to-student system. Yesterday’s students, in turn, should become teachers: this is the law of any development. If anyone thinks these programs outdated, then one should develop new, more feasible concepts of art education, better communicate with young people, examine their interests, and help them explore all kinds and genres of art.”
Bazarbai Serekeev, painter, laureate of the Berdakh State Award, Honoured Artist of Karakalpakstan: “I now recall one episode. Back in the 1980s, several artists were sent to work in the open air in Kuskanatau. Yet eventually I was to travel alone. I worked there for several days and brought back ten paintings. Igor Savitskiy commended my effort and purchased all of them for the museum. Thus he supported me both emotionally and financially. I was very grateful to him and enthused to work even better. He then advised me to travel and work longer, and to do it alone, so that I could work with inspiration. Since then this is exactly what I do. If everything is done confidently and eagerly, a lot can be achieved. I think that all teachers should give their students good lessons, to train students fit to take over.”
Peruza Hojametova, Doctor of Philosophy in Art History: “As an artist and staff member of the Savitskiy Museum, I would like to touch upon a few issues. First, there was a time when the Museum and contemporary pictorial art of Karakalpakstan were developing rapidly, thanks to the energy and perseverance of Igor Vitalyevich Savitskiy who helped Karakalpak artists not only with advice and acquisition of their paintings, but also with his sharp criticism, especially in the early stage of the museum’s history. Secondly, I would like to give a special mentioning to the specialist art school; I believe that its students, as well as those of other artist training institutions, are our future, our professionals of tomorrow. And no matter what hardships were are going through now, training for these young people is something we should be thinking about already today. Thirdly, it would be good to more actively promote culture and art of Uzbekistan on a greater scale, also as part of regional and international relations, exchange of experiences among artists, critics, and museums. Today’s meeting is organized by the leadership of the Academy of Arts, so we can count on our proposals to be implemented.”
Kamola Akilova: “It is clear that at the present stage it is essential to intensify the dialogue of cultures, which could also have different formats. I remember that a few years ago there were artist exchanges through public diplomacy programme. American artists visited our country and stayed in the homes of Uzbek artists, and our artists stayed with their colleagues in America. The exchange resulted in joint exhibitions of Uzbek and American artists in Tashkent and Washington. I believe that these bilateral relationships can be reinstated, particularly with the engagement of Karakalpak artists.”
Raikhan Saparova, People’s Artist of Uzbekistan: “As a representative of theatrical art, I know that theatre cannot operate without artists, and success of a production largely depends on their work. Theatre is a fusion of different art forms: stage work, singing, music, choreography, dramaturgy, makeup, costume, set design, etc. After all, it is theatre that has the capacity to comprehensively demonstrate history and culture of the nation.”
Alpysbai Sultanov, Editor-in-Chief of the “Saniyat” (“Art”) Magazine in Karakalpakstan: Our magazine was founded by Zhollybai Izentaev, famous artist, a talented master of brush, People’s Artist of Uzbekistan; for many years he headed the Karakalpakstan branch of the Academy of Arts. The first editor-in-chief of the magazine was A. Reimov. At first, “Saniyat” enjoyed a lot of support. Today, however, the editorial board finds it hard to implement its ideas due to financial constraints: few subscribers, the design of the magazine is not always adequate to its content and purpose. Since the magazine is about art, it should look nice, yet our printing facilities are wanting, while the good ones do not fit the size of our pocket.”
Gulbahor Izentaeva, Chair of the Karakalpakstan branch of the Academy of Arts: “As noted by Academician Akmal Nuridinov in one of his addresses, today’s key priorities for the Academy of Arts are art education, exhibition-related, creative and research work, as well as the study and promotion of art of Uzbekistan.
To support and develop art education, the Karakalpakstan branch of the Academy of Arts carries out collaborative activities: exhibitions, contests, festivals, workshops and meetings with reputable art masters; the events are hosted by academic institutions such as the Nukus State Pedagogical Institute named after Ajiniyaz, and the Nukus State College of Culture and Arts. This year, the Specialist Art School of the Republic of Karakalpakstan under the Academy of Arts was included in the state program, and in the city of Nukus started constructing new building for the school, which will receive talented children from not only Nukus, but also remote districts of the republic such as Muinak, Takhtakupir, Shomanai, and others.
To maintain and strengthen artistic skills and knowledge, facilitate sharing of experience and communication among professional artists, the Karakalpakstan branch has developed a whole range of measures and proposals which, hopefully, will help improve creative process in training and further development of all kinds of national art of Karakalpakstan.”
Kamola Akilova: “Currently, artistic education in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, as in other parts of the country, requires a lot of attention in the process of formation of contemporary national art of Karakalpakstan. The way we deliver on these objectives will define the future of the Karakalpak school of national fine and applied arts, as well as the development of culture at large. Most importantly, we need to give university and art school students not only knowledge and skills, but also help these young people develop a sense of patriotism, love for and pride in their country. They have to learn several languages and be able to adapt in today’s information environment.
I wish to thank all the roundtable participants for their ideas and suggestions. The work of the representatives of the Karakalpak art has always been in the focus of experts, society, and the government. The fact that this year the State Award in the area of culture and arts went to Karakalpakstan-born Zhollybai Izentaev, People’s Artist of Uzbekistan and Academician of the Academy of Arts, is not only the recognition of his great services to the Homeland in saving and developing artistic culture of the Karakalpak people, but also the evidence of care and attention the government gives to art and culture of all the people of Karakalpakstan.”
The roundtable discussion in Nukus was held in the environment of keen interest, active debate on matters of concern, and reciprocal exchange of ideas and plans, which is important for further development of contemporary visual arts in Uzbekistan.