Heidelberg University Student
Contemporary applied art of Uzbekistan is gaining popularity and recognition in the world. This is evidenced by an exhibition of two miniature painters from Tashkent, Muzaffar Polatov and Shorasul Shoakhmedov, that ran at the Ethnographical Museum of the city of Heidelberg from December 2013 through March 2014.
In this small town famous for the oldest university in Germany founded in 1386, the Ethnographical Museum of the Portheim Foundation (Völkerkundemuseum von Portheim Stiftung) has been open to visitors for about a hundred years. The museum boasts an extensive and diverse collection of utility and cult-related artifacts from Asia, Africa and the Pacific. The director of the museum Dr. Margareta Pavaloi who has been in charge since 2000 has a first-hand knowledge about history and art of Central Asia: an expert in the field of Oriental studies and ethnology, she was among the organizers of a famed exhibition, “Uzbekistan: Heirs to the Silk Road”, that was held in Stuttgart in 1995-1996. Together with Dr. Johannes Kalter, head of the Oriental section at the State Ethnological Museum (Linden Museum, Stuttgart), she compiled the exhibition catalogue that was published in German, English and Russian languages. It should be noted that the Stuttgart exhibition has remained unique in terms of richness and diversity of archaeological finds and works of ancient and medieval art of Uzbekistan ever presented in Europe. In 2002, the same Linden Museum hosted an exhibition dedicated to the applied arts of Uzbekistan, inviting artists working in different kinds of arts and crafts. In the process of preparing and holding these exhibitions German experts were introduced to the unique art of contemporary Uzbek miniature.
The idea to run the exhibition in Heidelberg emerged in the spring of 2013, when Shorasul Shoakhmedov and Muzaffar Polatov, acclaimed masters of miniature painting, were visiting Germany. At the preparation stage the work process in the artists’ shared workshop located in the building of the former Abul Qosim madrasah in Tashkent, now an arts and crafts centre known far beyond the city was photo- and video documented; information was gathered about the history of miniature art in Uzbekistan and its revival associated with names such as Shomakhmud Mukhammejanov, Niyazali Kholmatov, Viktor An, and Shohalil Shoyakubov; as well as about the founding of the Tashkent school of miniature painting and the professional career of the two artists.
Muzaffar Polatov and Shorasul Shoakhmedov were born in Tashkent in 1970, and in 1989 graduated from the Ben’kov art school where their hearts were won by the ancient art of miniature painting that was to become their lifetime pursuit. High workmanship standard attained through natural talent combined with perseverance and hard work enabled the artists to create pieces outstanding in artistic merit and technical complexity, earning them a reputation not only in Uzbekistan, but also far beyond. Colleagues and inseparable friends, they demonstrate their art in France, Germany, UK, Switzerland and Japan. Their works – the colourful miniatures on paper and jewel-boxes – are kept in museums and private collections around the world.
At the end of November 2013 Shoakhmedov and Polatov were invited to Heidelberg to prepare the exhibition, for which more than 70 of their best works had been selected; they also brought several paintings by Shomakhmud Mukhamejanov, their teacher and mentor in the art of miniature. In the course of preparation the masters from Tashkent shared their thoughts about the meaning and the ideas behind the painting compositions, as well as the secrets of their profession, starting from the use of paper manufactured with a special technology based on medieval recipes, to the properties of pigments and tools. The latter sometimes have an exotic origin: for instance, a brush made of the finest hairs growing on the ears of a squirrel or the tail of a Siberian weasel; or a wolf’s fang for polishing gilded surfaces.
The exhibition opened on the 1st of December 2013. Additional interest in the event was excited by the presence of the two artists, right there demonstrating their skill by drawing the finest lines and ornamental elements on paper and showing some of their devices. For one month the visitors had an opportunity to watch over the process of preparing paints and tools, observe the technique of creating miniatures and most complex designs; they could turn directly to the masters with questions, and dive into the artistic atmosphere where miniature painting masterpieces were created. This immediate introduction to the ancient and living art delighted the audiences. They took their time to contemplate the masters’ works through specially prepared magnifiers allowing one to see the smallest details in a colourful composition.
The concept behind the exhibition was a flowing transition from traditional forms and subjects to a new and unique style created by the modern-day miniaturists. The traditional style was represented by the renditions of classical literature, such as “Layla and Majnun”, “Yusuf and Zulaikha”, and “Language of the Birds” poems. Displayed in parallel were traditional forms of book ornamentation featuring vegetable and geometric designs in bright, saturated colours and numerous elements in leaf-gold. These ornamentation specimens are collectively known as naqsh. The two miniature types were followed by a series of paintings presenting free interpretation of popular themes, such as hunting scenes, heroic equestrians, feasts in shady gardens, young lovers, oriental beauties, musicians and poets.