The Metamorphosis of Uzbek Painting at the end of XX – beginning of XXI centuries

Issue #1 • 1905

Akbar Hakimov,
Art Critic

Tectonic transformations in the art that affect the entire generation or significant group of artists are possible only under the certain historical changes and revolutionary convulsions. Perestroika in the mid-1980s, gaining independence in 1991 – the important causes of the emergence of new trends in the painting art of Uzbekistan. In the late 1980s, as a result of the policy of perestroika in the Soviet art, a new, opposing the utopias of the socialist art emerges the trend of social criticism.
The followers of the trends of the art of perestroika period in Uzbekistan was the group – a little more than 20 artists, whose age ranged from 30 to 50 years. At that time it was a kind of vanguard of the national painting. In 1988, the first creative “Association of 23” was established, which included the artists, who most clearly manifested in their works the mood of perestroika. These were the artists of Tashkent: B. Djalalov, J. Umarbekov, A. Mirzaev, A. Nur, V. Ahunov, A. Turdyev, A. Sharjanov, K. Yusupov, E. Mansurov, I. Tokhtaev, N. Shin, R. Shadyev, B. Babaev, G. Kadyrov, B. Mahkamov; the artists of Ferghana: U. Boltabaev, Sh. Tashbaev, S. Alibekov; the artists from Samarqand: A. Krikis, A. Isaev; the artists from Bukhara: M. Abdullaev and Z. Saidjanov, later on they were joint by M. Isanov and F. Ahmadaliev. The artists of the “Association of 23” had tried to create an alternative to the style of socialist realism.
In their creative work the paintings painted in unusually dark color and dramatic intonations appeared. They were criticizing the events of the establishment of the Soviet power in Uzbekistan, the Stalinist repressions of the 1930s. The artists in their paintings were calling for restoration of traditional values. The Declaration adopted by the “Association of 23”, in particular, was outlining the objectives of overcoming stereotypes, superficial pathetic reflection of reality, etc. The important item of Declaration was the one referring to the need for attention and creative interpretation of Uzbekistan’s traditions of art of the 1920-1930s that have been rejected by the socialist realism (Usto Mumin, A. Volkov, V. Ufimtsev and others) (1). In 1988-1989, a number of artists – the members of this Association (A. Krikis, M. Vardanyan, K. Titov, G. Kaptsan, A. Turdiev, Sh. Jamilova and others) used to arrange the small group exhibitions that were distinctive of their conceptual ideas. The aesthetics of the grotesque, allegorical and destructive art, first, has become plastic and semantic motif, reflecting a new understanding of the creative and ideological objectives by the artists (2).
In the early 1990s, the socio-evaluative tendencies are losing their importance in this group of painters (3). A new turn in the philosophy and concepts in Uzbek painting has occurred in connection with the independence of Uzbekistan. The search for national identity has given a new impulse for the metamorphosis in painting, where the themes and motifs with different than in the previous decade, creative and ideological orientations emerge at that period. In the paintings, in different interpretations, arise the archetypes of the traditional culture of the East, expressed in the decorative version – graceful peacocks, camels and horses, fantastic creatures – fairies, angels, birds with human heads, the characters of the old city culture – water bearers and artisans.
Of particular interest to the artists is the figure of dervish – the follower of the mystical philosophy of Sufism. Out of the cosmological motifs the preferred one is the Moon, which is interpreted as a symbol of lyrical melancholy and passionate longing. The pomegranate motif can be predominantly found in various metaphorical variations; popular attributes of the traditional household and dress are the beshik (cradle), arba (carriage), chest, skull-caps. Phantasmagoria, mixing of the myth, epic and folklore fairy-tales characters, stories, sacred and religious symbols, included in the new plastic canvas, characterize the development of the national painting in the 1990s.
The theme of love and sensual pleasures that was ignored by the aesthetics of the socialist realism now becomes relevant, and this generation of Uzbek painters has turned to a new philosophy, overcoming the philosophical obstacles of the past.
In the early 2000s, many painters of this trend continued to work in the format of a style of the 1990s, only slightly updating their old plastic methods that led to the disappointing thoughts about the crisis and stagnation that took place at the turn of the century of new painting (4). At the same time, new forms of creative presentations in the form of installations, video art, performance art, began to appear at the exhibitions, in which the hedonistic aesthetics of the 1990s was not considered as a relevant topic. Often the authors of these works were the painters of the mid-1990s. Here, should be highlighted such artists as Jamol Usmanov and Faizullah Akhmadaliev. D. Usmanov, intensively, and F. Akhmadaliev, only occasionally, began to create installations. In the second half of the 2000s, D. Usmanov turned to the video-art and presented a series of the unique video works. Despite of the change of instrumentation the both artists were still within the range of the Eastern mentality and paraphernalia, focusing attention on the issues of mystical Sufi philosophy. In this sense, they represented a latent transition from the hedonistic philosophy of the East (painting of the 1990s) to it’s sacred and mystical teachings and moral truths (the beginning of the 2000s).
In the 2000s, the creative work of a number of Uzbek painters acquired the semantic and plastic intonations that demonstrated a different vector of understanding and interpretation of the philosophy of an individual. Their paintings have determined another surge of unconventional ideas, social and psychological contexts. These are the artists like Murad Karabaev, Babur Ismailov, Timur Ahmedov, Zebo Sharipova, Farrukh Ahmadaliev, as well as Maxim Vardanyan, who from the end of 2000 (after a long break) takes active participation in the exhibitions held in Tashkent. To this group can be included the relatively young artists like Diyor Razikov and Sanjar Djabbarov who create, along with paintings, the projects in the field of video art and installations. This group of artists of different ages, who are not particularly communicating among themselves, however, conceptually, represents a kind of ideological community of the postmodern orientation. Despite their different styles of painting, one can feel a certain virtual community of ideas and characters, based on a commitment to pragmatic inflection.
In the works of the above mentioned artists there are barely any hedonistic motives. The plastic and conceptual design that they created does not include the Eastern existentialism and the national identity as self-contained and closed system of values. Their paintings are more restrained in character, less exotic; they clearly outline the process of desacralization of the philosophy of art relevant for the 1990s – early 2000s, that was based on the cultivation of the Eastern archetypes. Advices of the experts about the need for deeper inclusion into the “international context” have been most sensitively perceived by these specific painters, whose works are distinguished by the highly coloristic culture, professionalism and meticulous painting techniques.
Intellectualization of creative search, irony and detachment of the characters, shifting the emphasis from the sphere of sensual interests and ethnical landscape in the plane of definitely evaluative, rational thinking, as well as the targeted and dramatic focusing on the existential aspects of modern personality, determine the semantic and plastic keynote of the aesthetics of “Association of 23”.
Even participating in the projectof 2011, “The Aesthetics of Hedonism: Food, Body, and Spirit”, B. Ismai-lov (“A dream in the patchwork quilt”, 2010), T. Akhme-dov (“In anxious anticipation of grant”), D. Razikov (“And longer than a century the day lasts”, art object) and S. Jab-barov (“Melancholia”), M. Vardanyan (“Still life with bottles”) presented in their works a certain intellectual interpretation of the common perceptions of the aesthetics of pleasure, in which the images or objects are just the outside observers, and not the participants involved in the process (5).
As a kind of postmodern, with its typical ironic undertone, response to the subject of the Eastern hedonism can be viewed the naked images of women in a number of paintings by M. Karabaev (“The flow of black hair”, 2000; “Circles of the lost swallow”, 2000; “The Sleeping Butterfly”, 2000). These are not sensual, full-bodied beauties or subtly erotic divas, but short-legged, childish looking and angular images of the hedonistic series with awkward hands and feet. In this sort of desacralization of the values of the traditional “nu” genre, there is an ironic concept of the relationship to the established views and aesthetic canons, allowing the artist to change articulation in the voluntary plastic register.
The range of philosophy of alienation and disruption of the temporal and cultural ties in the paintings of M. Karabaev is quite broad. His paintings are unique for their unusual intellectual and psychological intonations with participation of children’s characters (mostly the sons of the artist), who can be serious and ironic at the same time. At this, M. Karabaev, who is skillfully mastering the aesthetics of iconographic nuances – hand position, facial features and mimics, barely noticeable details in the clothes and accessories of the characters, ultimately creates an expression of images and meanings. In the painting “The Song of the Mavis” with the help of these attributes, he shows the alienation of generations – the eyes of people are turned in different directions, like the socks of the curved shoes without heels. Special meaning is given to the character of the medieval Eastern apparels designed to show the problem of fathers and children and the conflicting views that existed even between very close people at all times.
Search for original pictorial and iconographic effects given the picture “First Skates” by M Karabaev with the trivial plot a suddenly phantasmagoric and transcendental sounding. This feeling is created by using a golden-brown background and unusual pose and clothing of the boy. As if the painter tells his character: “the mystical future is not so attractive”. At the same time, paradoxical nuances – the skates and medieval Eastern outfit of the boy create ironically expressive portrait of the East-West cultural disharmony and mutual exclusion.
Detachment and ontological dissatisfaction (here the Uzbek idiom “armon” is applicable), the fatigue from the life are evident in a series of single characters by B. Ismailov (“Ataraxia”, 2007; “A Girls with an Apple”, 2007; “Keeping the balance”, 2008; diptych “Touch”, 2009; “The Window”, 2009; “A Girl with the Ball”, 2009; “Waiting”, 2010; “Full Moon”, 2010; “A Portrait of a Girl”, 2010). Even in the multi-figure compositions the characters of B. Ismailov do not look at each other – their eyes glide past, or, rather, appear through the space of the canvas, not leaving room to any hints on common aspirations (“Procession of maskarabozes”, 2000; “The Garden of Red Fruits”, 2002; “The Pomegranate Juice”, 2002; “The Garden of Oblivion”, 2000). In the painting “Kurak” (2007) a disruption of interpersonal relations, status of non-involvement of individuals in the general impulse reach its culmination – the composition is a panorama consisting of separate scenes with emphasized boundaries between them (6). After a trip to France in 2012, the pictures of B. Ismailov have attained the new non-figurative plastics. The abstract painting of the artist was, perhaps, some episode, but rather symptomatic, indicating a trend towards autonomy as the art in itself and the artist’s distancing from the metaphysical relations with society.
Paradoxical play of the warm colors and hidden ironic sadness are characteristic of the paintings by T. Akhmedov. Deliberate color excitement, bright red and gold palette inlaid with blue shades is contrasting, emphasizing the psychological and moral alienation of the personality (“The Vanity Fair”, “In anxious anticipation of the grant”, “Anastasia”, “In burnt red” and others). In this context is notable his painting on Biblical theme – “Judith and Holofernes” (2014). In European painting Judith seemed as a paragon of virtue, her features, normally, expressed, passion, determination, or disgust. In the picture of T. Akhmedov, Judith is cold, detached from the murder, hidden behind the impenetrable mask and even extreme events cannot change her alienated attitude towards everything around her.
Socio-psychological interpretation of the personality can be traced in the works of the artist Z. Sharipova (“Self-Portrait” and “The Nude”), in which the fusion of sensual and mystical aspects does not overlap the main subject – the state of alienation and dramatic tension of the characters.
The philosophy of the rejection of any binding and uniting communications with established social institutions, parting into the alienated and distant space, postulate the female characters with exaggerated proportions in paintings of S. Jabbarov (“The Stranger”, 2011; “Waiting”, 2013; “Birthday”, 2013).
Essentially, this allegory, embodying the socio-psychological state of the person, its inability to adapt to the discourses of the present and nostalgia of the not yet realized future.
The principle of non-involvement of the individual in the paintings by D. Razikov is manifested in the absence of its visual personification. On the huge canvases there are almost no human figures. The artist has not found yet the motivation for human presence in his pictures, the range of topical issues is addressed by the artist to the society as a kind of abstract generality (“Oil”, 2008; “The Carousel of Sorrow”, 2009; “The Manuscript”, 2010; “The Forgotten Dance”, 2013, etc.).
In the works of M. Vardanyan of recent years the social non-involvement of the pictorial philosophy is felt in the absence of the grotesque images characteristic for his works of the 1980s and focus on the world of objects (wine bottles) and a huge flower still-lives, shown in the fall of 2014, at his personal exhibition.
It is not correct to bring the creative work of the above mentioned artists only to commitment to the philosophy of personality, bringing a wide range of their creative quests to one aspect only. However, their inherent intellectualization of plastic ideas aimed at non-standard disclosure of the problems of personality is rather obvious and relevant.
* * *
In general, the stratigraphy of the national painting of Uzbekistan of the last decades testifies its obvious dynamics and visible stylistic innovations. The first wave of the renovation of painting takes place in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s, there was the second wave of the metamorphosis of Uzbek painting. By the end of the 2000s the ambition of the artists towards the philosophical interpretation of the social and personal issues was forming, which has led to the emergence of another trend of the plastic and semantic renewal in Uzbek painting. Strengthening the role of intellectual and social-psychological context is associated with the transformations in the consciousness of the entire global community. The XXI century has welcomed the culture with new historical challenges and the social and moral adversities that have determined the relevance of the artistic and philosophical interpretation of vital problems.
Artistic practice of the 2000s suggests that the presence of non-standard creative ideas, regardless of the forms of artistic expression, is still relevant. In this sense, the painting retains a leading position in the morphology of the fine arts of Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, today the faceless mass of paintings and photographic salon painting make the statistical majority of the exhibited arte-facts, deforming the social and artistic tastes of younger generations. It is, therefore, essential to identify and professionally mark the poetics and the philosophy of the genuine and profound art.

1. Сизни кутар хали куп маъни//Совет Узбекистони санъати., 1989, №4.
2. Хакимов А. Грани художественного процесса//Творчество. 1988, №10; Хакимов А. Бадиий жараён кирралари//Совет Узбекистони санъати. 1989, №4.
3. Хакимов А. Синие кони – желтый павлин: идиоматика живописи 1990-х годов//San at, 1999. №1.
4. Хакимов А. Похищение реальности как приближение к смыслу// Sanat, 2007, №3; Ахмедова Н. Современное искусство Узбекистана – проблемы и тенденции. 2008г. for_painters/slovo_iskusstvovedov/nigora_akhmedova_sovremennoe_iskusstvo_uzbekistana_-_problemy_i_tendentsii/
5. Каталог «Эстетика гедонизма: Еда, Тело, Дух». Ташкент, 2011.
6. Каталог «Bobur Ismailov». Ташкент, 2011.

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