SAODAT ISMAILOVA, Zukhra, 2013, still from double projection on bifacial screen. Courtesy Carlos Casas.


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Despite a rich artistic history, Uzbekistan struggles to escape the legacy of its Soviet past, in political, economic and cultural spheres. The art scene suffered a major blow on November 21 when Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the country’s president, Islam Karimov, and chairperson of the main funding body for the arts, the Forum of Culture and Art of Uzbekistan Foundation (Fund Forum), announced that its activities would be halted temporarily. Many assume this is due to the political maneuvering surrounding presidential succession—Karimova is seen as a potential candidate.

Since its establishment in 2004, the Fund Forum has organized the Tashkent Biennale—the country’s sole contemporary art event—and other state-endorsed exhibitions. These remain heavily censored and restricted to the capital, Tashkent, under Karimova’s patronage. In 2013, the seventh Tashkent Biennale (10/22–27) took place across six venues with the theme “Different Cultures – One World.” One of the highlights was a dome-shaped video installation by Russian artist Alikhan, entitled Triptych . . . Architecture. Music. Dance (2013), which showcased official images of daily life in Uzbekistan.

The majority of state institutions remain Soviet in structure and content. The State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan in Tashkent holds one of the largest collections of art in Central Asia, with both regional and Western works of applied and fine arts. The Gallery of Fine Arts of Uzbekistan, which opened in 2004, remains active. In the western city of Nukus, the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art houses an important Russian avant-garde collection—after a prolonged partial closure it appears that USD 17 million has been allocated for the construction of two new buildings.

There are only two commercial galleries in Uzbekistan, both in Tashkent: Art+Fact and Granart Gallery, which mount circumspect programs. Independent art spaces are rare, with the exception of the Ilkhom Theatre, a recipient of a 2011 Prince Claus Award. It hosted Global Art Lab in 2013, including a workshop by New York street artist Gabriel Reese (4/20–30), coinciding with the exhibition “Refresh!” (4/23–5/4) of street dance, photography and performance inspired by urban themes. Another independent platform is the underground video and film festival VideoART.uz, run by outspoken director Oleg Karpov. In 2013, Karpov presented “How I Spent Last Summer” (09/15–19)—a collection of 15 films exploring human-rights issues shown at a private movie theater to avoid censorship.

On the outskirts of Tashkent, the Chorsu Gallery hosted an exhibition of local artists (10/26) from the historical city of Samarkand.

Government censorship remains a hindrance: it has been reported that writer and artist Vyacheslav Akhunov was denied an exit visa to attend the 55th Venice Biennale in June as a result of his political sentiments. He exhibited at the Sotheby’s London Central Asian selling exhibition “At the Crossroads: Contemporary Art from the Caucasus and Central Asia” (3/4–12) as well as at the 55th Venice Biennale’s Central Asia Pavilion (6/1–11/24), alongside Uzbek filmmaker Saodat Ismailova.

Exhibitions from the state collections are planned in Doha at the Museum of Islamic Art in 2014, and at the Orientalist Museum in 2015, while efforts are underway to secure an official Uzbekistan Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.