I learned about the work of sculptor Jalaliddin Mirtajiev in spring of 1998, already having a prior knowledge about his paintings. Although by that time he was already known as a sculptor, apart from the sculpture of Abdullah Kadiri erected in a public park named after him in Tashkent in 1994, I knew about the artist’s work only from press publications and television broadcasts. The sculptor’s monumental pieces, such as monuments to Babur Mirzo (Andijan, 1993) Abdurauf Fitrat (Bukhara, 1996), Chulpan (Andijan, 1997) and Elbek (Tashkent Province, 1998) are well known to the public. The sculpture of Babur has become the artist’s hallmark, a kind of a bridge in his career, and a talisman bringing good luck. According to Mirtajiev, he was not listed among contenders for creating the sculpture of Babur, but his perseverance got Mirtajiev into the competition.
A native of Tashkent, after graduation, he got a job placement in the city of Andijan, the birthplace of Babur. In Andijan he befriended the warm people of the city and in appreciation of their kindness wanted to give them the sculpture of Babur, poet and Padshah, brave and kind-hearted person. During the competition the artist made at least fifty sketches he did not like. Then once in his dream the sculptor saw Babur who was preparing to leave India for Andijan, and he made a sketch of this dreamt episode: proudly sitting on a horse, poet and statesman Babur appears to be overwhelmed with the feelings of devotion, longing and overpowering love for his people. The sketch turned out to be the winning version. Twelve meters tall sculpture of Babur installed in the centre of Andijan seemed to have given the master its blessing, helping him to believe in himself and find his place in the art of monumental sculpture. Subsequently, he repeatedly turned to the image of Babur. For instance, in a composition called “Babur Playing the Game of Chavgan” not only the hero’s character was exposed, but also the fact that he initiated the birth of this sport. The piece is installed in the city of Lausanne in Switzerland.
Creating sculptures of the prominent Timurid representative Mirzo Ulugbek and of the great poet and thinker Alisher Navoi the sculptor turned to the text of Baburnama. Before starting his work on the sculptures of these historical figures, the master created images of free-thinking Jadids repressed in the 1930s. This was a truly good school that boosted the artist’s creativity. His sculptures of Abdullah Kadiri, Abdurauf Fitrat, Abdulhamid Chulpan and Elbek loved by all people now stand as symbols of sorrow and pain, hope and prayer. While working on the Abdullah Kadiri sculpture, the artist often visited the place where the writer was executed by fire squad. Now this place in Tashkent is known as the Alley of Memory of the Fallen. Stateliness, reserve and thoughtfulness characterize the image of Fitrat created by the artist. In Bukhara, the monument has become a place of pilgrimage. The sculptor has been able to show Fitrat as a guiding light for all Turkic-speaking nations in the twentieth century.
In a short while, to the city of Andijan the artist donated a sculpture of the famous Uzbek poet Chulpan portrayed as manly, well-proportioned intellectual. Creating a sculpture of his contemporary, poet Elbek, Mirtajiev showed a proud man with a passionate heart, unbroken by the hardships of life he endured.
In the spring of 2000, at an exhibition in the garden of the Indian Cultural Centre, the sculptor presented to the audience his works that exposed new facets of the artist’s talent: there coexist different colourations and shapes, and a search for new plastic solutions.
In the works such as “Eclipse” (fireclay), “Summer in the Village” (bronze), “Poetry” (fireclay), “Rain” (bronze), “Nigora” (bronze) and “Kamaliddin Behzad” (bronze) there is a lot of focus on beauty and grace, and in the works such as “Timur Malik” (bronze), “The Portrait of Bakirov” (bronze) and “Stargazer” the dominant spirit is that of patience and mind at work. In these works the artist’s love for monumental art is particularly manifest and proved true by the fact that subsequently he would implement some of these images in his monumental sculpture. Thus, the sculpture of Kamaliddin Behzad was erected in 2003 in the Chinese city of Chan-Chul, and in 2011 – at the entrance to the Behzad garden-museum in Tashkent. Working on the full length image of the great painter of the East, the sculptor referred to the old miniatures to study Behzad’s facial features and expression at the moments he was wrapped in thought. Mirtajiev did not limit himself to portraying only ethnographic details, such as clothing; he also considered his character’s social status.
Creative approach also characterizes the sculptor’s other works inspired by history. Environment, nature and society were different in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, or in the 1930s, and showing this in sculpture is quite a challenge. The artist attempts to depict these differences in a full gallery of sculptural images of the famous people of the past: Mirzo Ulugbek (Moscow, 2001), Alisher Navoi (Moscow, 2002), Mirzo Ulugbek (Riga, 2004), Alisher Navoi (Japan, Tokyo, 2004), Biruni (Tashkent, 2005), Ibn Sino (Riga, Latvia, 2006), Ahmad Ferghani (Egypt, Cairo, 2007), Alisher Navoi (Azerbaijan, Baku, 2008), Rudaki (Samarqand, 2009), and Mirzo Ulugbek (Samarqand, 2010). The 2014 exhibition of the artist’s works presented photographs of the aforementioned sculptures, as well as models and sketches. This gave the audience an opportunity to appreciate all facets of Mirtajiev’s talent.
Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Soka Gakkai International, wrote: “In March 2004 a monument to the great poet Alisher Navoi was installed in our campus – the gift from the Government of Uzbekistan. I am infinitely delighted to see the productive development of cooperation between our countries, specifically in the field of science, culture and art, which are the soil that nourishes humanity, the force that unites human hearts, and the foundation of peace and accord in the complex environment of the present day.”
Many foreign countries now have works of different art forms, symbolizing peace and commonwealth. Thus, in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, there are districts named Hadika al-Uzbekia, Sur al-Uzbekia, and Hai al-Uzbekia. By the resolution of the Government of Egypt, a monument to the Uzbek scholar and thinker Ahmad al-Farghani, creator of Nilometer, was erected as a tribute to scientific and cultural connections between the two nations. His statue created by Mirtajiev rises in one of the districts in Cairo. President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov took part in the monument inauguration ceremony during his official visit to Egypt.
This tradition lives in many other countries. For instance, in Tashkent, sculptor I. Jabbarov erected a monument to the great Nizami, and in 2008 in Baku J. Mirtajiev created a sculpture of Alisher Navoi. These socially significant exchanges of the works of art provided opportunities to discover the many facets of Jalaliddin Mirtajiev’s creative potential in the domain of monumental art. His sculptures ennoble the look of squares and parks of a modern metropolis; among them are monuments to Gafur Ghulam (2003), Zulfia (2008), Aibek (2010), and Saeed Ahmad and Saeeda Zunnunova (2013) in the National Park of Uzbekistan in Tashkent.
Jalaliddin Mirtajiev admires plastic forms and solutions found by the great 20th century sculptor Henry Moore and the art of contemporary Russian sculptor Lev Kerbel. He notes, however: “Regardless of these influences, when I work on a monumental sculpture I never recall them. What interests me is the sunrise and the sunset and the landscape against which the sculpture would rise: whether the environment fits the monument-to-be, or is the pedestal in line with the essence of the work. Such reflections naturally breed solutions for the sculptural image.”
A sculpture by Mirtajiev, “Stronghold of the Motherland” (Qarshi, 2006), shows the older generation – father and mother who have seen the woes and hardships of life, and the young people of the new era: a young man eager to put all his energy to work, and a dreamy young girl. Looking at this composition, one gets overwhelmed with pride and deep respect for the people of his country. Quite remarkable is the master’s “Oath to the Motherland” (Tashkent, 2010): a young soldier kneels before the flag, the symbol of the nation; he is always ready to be a staunch defender of homeland.
For every artist a mother theme is a source of inspiration. So it is for Mirtajiev who repeatedly turned to the ‘grieving mother’ subject in his works. Installed in Jizak (1999), Andijan (2000) and Ferghana (2000), the “Grieving Mother” compositions, different in scale, stand as a requiem for the untimely departed sons of the Motherland.
The sculptor is always searching. His works often pose questions: How is Mirtajiev different from his colleagues? Which school does his style belong to? What kind of traditions does the master follow? A look at his works may suggest that he maintains the traditions of Russian and European realist schools. Yet his artistic quest sometimes brings to memory surviving sculptures found in archaeological excavations in Chaganian and Dalverzintepa, such as the prince’s head or a gallery of portraits of a warrior, a priest, and the court. In his paintings Mirtajiev draws on symbolism. In his monumental art, however, particularly when creating portraits of real historical figures, he is guided by the people’s memory and a description of a character in historical texts; and still he has to deal with many complex issues and problems, finding an answer to which may take years.
Forty years of Jalaliddin Mirtajiev’s career in art makes the golden history of his daily effort that has been rated highly not only at home, where he was awarded the titles of People’s Artist of Uzbekistan (2003), Honoured Worker of Culture of Uzbekistan (1999), and the Babur International Award (1998), but also abroad: the Fuji Museum Medal (Japan), Diploma of Moscow City Duma, and the Medal of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Mirtajiev holds the title of the Honorary Professor of the Shanghai (2010) and the Harbin (2011) Universities of the People’s Republic of China.