Masters of the Contemporary Miniatures of Uzbekistan

Issue #2 • 72

Shohalil Shayakubov, Art Critic

The Central Asian miniature painting is one of the most interesting pages of the history of art of the peoples of the East. As a special kind of pictorial art it is a book illustration by its nature, which was developed under the influence of the classical Oriental poetry.
The reign of the last of the Timurids – Sultan Hussein (1469-1506) – was praised by his contemporaries and for a long while remained in the memory of posterity as “an amazing time”. At that period, the enlightening cultural center “Nigoriston” has been formed in Herat under the patronage of the head of state, thinker and poet – Alisher Navoi. In The scientists, artists, actors and poets came in flocks to Herat. This epoch is the remarkable for the genius of the great miniaturist – Kamaleddin Behzad (circa1455-1535).
One of the areas of the miniature painting of Central Asia is lacquered miniature, as evidenced by the findings, now housed in the collections of the State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan, medieval manuscripts with painted papier-mache covers, so-called “djildi-roughani” from the collections of the Institute of Manuscripts named after H. Suleymanov and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan.
Based on the data of these funds, such an ancient form of figurative arts as lacquer miniature painting on papier-mache (tosh-qogoz) was revived in Uzbekistan in the late 1970s. It was at this time, when the experimental workshop of the artistic painting was organized in the Union of Craftsmen created under the Union of Artists of Uzbekistan, for the purposes of conservation, development and revival of all kinds of folk arts. Originally, it was led by a talented artist, Niyazali Kholmatov, and later on by the People’s Artist of Uzbekistan – Chinghiz Akhmarov. Within the walls of this workshop the first samples of lacquer miniatures, miniatures on skin, paper, and pumpkin-gourd have been created.
The friendship of artists of Uzbekistan with the artists of Palekh and Khohloma helped the local craftsmen to master the technique of making molds from papier-mache and tempera painting using a fine brush, adding egg yolk and gum-arabic to the paint, which has similarities with the Russian lacquer miniatures, but the Uzbek artists have found their own style, typical of the Eastern medieval miniature. The first works of the enthusiasts, reviving the Uzbek miniature, have subsequently formed the core of the research and production center of folk art “Musavvir” organized in Tashkent. Among them was the artist Shomahmud Mukhamedjanov, who have mastered the ancient samples of portrait miniatures, the works of the artists of different schools, the old recipes for preparation of paints, skills and techniques of the masters of the East. Significant influence on the creative art of the master of miniature had both the experience acquired in the Museum of A. Navoi, where he used to work, and professional artistic training.
Among the followers of the traditions of miniature lacquer painting artist Niyazali Kholmatov, who, using the pinpoints techniques, re-created the forgotten craft of enamel painting on the boxes. Having mastered the majority of technological processes of treatment of materials, the craftsman has revived the art of lacquer miniature, creating amazing pieces on paper, porcelain, ceramics, interpreting a miniature in the context of the large monumental works.
Ambition for the miniature traditions as a source of folk heritage, cheery humanistic worldview is notable in the works of Abdubasit Kambarov, who constantly refers to portrayal of the topics related to classic literature, poetry and folklore. The apex of the art of miniature is the works by
Bahadyr Yuldashev, who not only brilliantly applies the technique of medieval miniature, but is constantly perfecting his painting style, looking for new solutions in his creative work. B. Yuldashev has produced the easel paintings as well, however the method of their painting is similar to the miniature style.
Sharasul Shaahmedov – miniature artist – has found his own individual techniques in the expressive characterization of artistic images, in reproduction of particular rhythm, intensive dynamics, in the plastic structure of the miniatures, picturesque experiencing of the subject in relation to the essence and the artistic means. Shaahmedov is a master of transmitting a lyrical mood. His artworks are spiritualized with the music of senses and meanings.
One of the first miniaturists, working on leather and fine canvas, is Abror Tursunov. Moreover, in his work he used a paper as well. He is one of the first artists in Uzbekistan who, similarly to his colleagues in miniature painting – Ubaydulla Kasymov and B. Yuldashev – worked on the large size canvases using tempera and oil paints.
The miniaturist, Shamsuddin Rihsiev, is more discreet in application of color than Abror Tursunov. He is going a gradual, evolutionary path from the easel painting to classical forms of miniature. However, unlike the old artists he is using a noble, beautiful coloring in his works. Besides, the artist is highly skillful in the gold inlay by brush.
The artwork of the miniaturist Shailham Shyakubov is dominated by the characters from everyday life, interpreted in traditional forms of the miniature painting. His lacquer box “The Lovers” is an oblong rectangle. The composition is vertical, beautifully built on the harmony of bright saturated colors.
In the foreground of the picture is a seated young man signing the autograph for his beloved one, and slightly behind is standing his girlfriend, coyly holding out her hand, willing to see what he is writing on. The artist succeeded to express the poses of the lovers, curiosity on the face and in the moves of a girl, her desire to get her gift as soon as possible. The composition is based on the rhythm of the verticals. A girl is dressed in the bright red dress, a young man in a long shirt wearing a dark red, almost brown, robe over it. Behind the girl there is a blooming shrub with yellow, pink and blue flowers, behind the boy are depicted light green colors of the curving tree trunk.
The Eastern miniatures give you a chance to look at this world through the prism of medieval and possibly more ancient philosophical views, according to the miniaturist Kamaliddin Mirzaev.
It is difficult to fully understand the plot of the miniature, if you do not know that it is built out of a set of unique formulas and symbols. These traditions date back to the literary works of the past, which were rich with symbols and formulas well known to their contemporaries.
The faces of the people depicted in the miniatures, whether the heroes of the epics or poems, in accordance with established canons almost always look the same. The artist’s task is to identify not a personality, but a type corresponding to the hierarchy of classes, norms of behavior and the icon of beauty of his epoch. Young characters are usually beardless having a thin waist, often vigorously gesticulating; older people are wearing beards and have dignified air… The miniature had developed a permanent “type” of the ruler, the rider, the beauty, and the old man. Different artists have consistently repeated the themes of the solemn receptions and fierce battles, hunting and sports amusements and travel, philosophical conversations and love scenes. The state of the characters, the nuances of mood are being conveyed through the rhythm of the movement of hands, color of the landscape in the background, their nature – by means of the color of clothes and even paint of the horse. Thus, the black always means an evil plot, the blue or the pink color signify romance and dreaminess…
Virtually any miniature can be divided into several parts by diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines, and concentric circles. The most important people and objects are located in the center, while the others at a greater distance from them. At that, each part of the miniature has its completeness, like a separate chapter of the poem or novel.
The figures represented on a plane without regard to the laws of perspective, usually are of the same size, the main characters are depicted in full length, the secondary ones – only partially.
Kamaliddin Mirzayev like his medieval predecessors often uses the classical themes in his works. Just so, his miniature “The Dangerous Journeys” is a story about the arrogance of youth, neglecting the experience of the older generation. A young man on a black horse leading the procession craves for wealth at any cost. For the love of gold, glittering in the distance, he is ready to put to risk his friends – a dreamy young man, perhaps a poet, overwhelmed with curiosity of adventurer, impatiently pulling a resisting horse. The artist has captured the moment when the young people were crossing a serpent-like brook. A danger is waiting ahead of them– a jumble of rocks, a naked black bush, on the branches of which hide a scorpion and a wriggling snake ….
Like many of his colleagues, K. Mirzayev uses the Samarkand silk paper for painting his miniatures, which, according to him, instantly absorbs the ink without sprawling that enables to draw the thinnest lines with a pinpoint precision. For example, on the miniatures illustrating the works of Omar Khayyam, the master could even write his Rubayi. Studies of the works of the ancestors, comprehension of the laws and canons of this difficult genre of painting enabled K. Mirzayev for creation of the dozens of miniatures and narration through the “language” of miniatures of the history of the Herat and the Tabriz schools of the art of Oriental miniature, about the creative work of K. Behzad, and other gifted medieval artists. The artist believes it is a matter of honor to bring this concept to life.
The modern Uzbek school of miniature has rich ideological, artistic and scientific foundations, a solid pillars of which are the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, the National Institute of Arts and Design named after K. Behzad with its departments of the miniature painting and the applied arts, the Memorial Museum Garden of K. Behzad under the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, and the magazine “Sanat” (Art).
In recent years, delineated two main artistic and stylistic trends have clearly defined themselves in the evolvement of the art of miniature in Uzbekistan: a revival of the miniature in its classical form and strict adherence to artistic canons. The artists – followers of the second trend – creative painting in miniature style is not a goal in itself, but only an element of the artistic image generation.
The art of the miniature is successfully evolving in Bukhara, Namangan, Andijan, and Samarkand. Tashkent is an important center of painting on the art pieces made of papier-mache, where a numerous skillful miniaturists are working, including the young craftsmen.
Today the miniature painting is experiencing its Renaissance. Modern painters find their own style, at the same time carefully preserving the centuries-long forms and principles of this art. Uzbek people have not only revived their heritage, but proudly show it to the entire world. The artworks of the prominent Uzbek artists appear to the eyes of the visitors of many prestigious international exhibitions, they are stored in the museums and private collections.

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