Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Kirghizia, Kazakhstan, the Caucasus and Trancaucasia (by Marianna Miasina)

The peoples of the Soviet East made a valuable contribution to the treasury of world art and culture. The fine works of art produced by them adorn many state and private collections both in the Soviet Union and abroad.

The Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow possesses large and varied collections representing the fine and applied arts of the nations of Central Asia, the Caucasus and other eastern parts of the Soviet Union, the history of whose civilization goes way back into remote antiquity.

At the time the Museum was established, the art of these peoples was represented by a fairly limited number of exhibits-a few Turkmen and Azerbaijani carpets and several samples of Georgian and Uzbek handicrafts. The reason was that in tsarist Russia the art of the eastern outskirts of the Empire was neither systematically studied nor collected on a large scale. Little was known about the culture of those regions. Archaeological research carried out there was largely of an accidental and desultory character.

After the October Revolution of 1917 this state of affairs changed drastically, and extensive collecting and research activity began. During the sixty years of the Museum's existence the stocks of the Soviet East Department have grown to over 10,000 items.

The foundations of the art collection within that Department were laid during the first post-revolutionary years. The art treasures which are now in the possession of the Museum entered its stocks from different sources. Some of them came from nationalized private collections and from state reserves, others were transferred from various museums around the country.

One important aspect of the Museum's activity is to discover objets d'art in, and purchase them from, private collections. Thanks to these efforts the Museum acquired a collection of the celebrated pottery and terracotta articles from Afrasiab which had formerly been in the possession of Boris Kastalsky, a one-time member of the Turkestan Circle of Amateur Archaeologists and a connoisseur of Central Asiatic culture. Between 1965 and 1967 a sizable collection of Central Asiatic objects (1 Oth to 15th centuries), including eleventh- and twelfth-century ceramics and metalwork from the site of Akhsyket, the ancient capital of Fergana, was bequeathed to the Museum by the eminent Moscow collector Alexei Smirnov. At the end of 1976, a valuable collection of Azerbaijani carpets and felts was purchased from Liatif Kerimov-a carpet-maker and author of the fundamental work Azerbaijani Carpets.

Quite a few items were purchased from people who were but chance possessors of this or that piece of Oriental art. This method of acquisition had both its merits and disadvantages. Usually the Museum was offered articles of high artistic value which had been preserved with care as family treasures for decades. But their historic value was often questionable because of the lack of accurate dating.

In other words, the Museum could not rely on chance in the accumulation of its stocks. A safer and more effective method of building up the collections involved extensive excavations and regular expeditions to the regions in question in pursuit of ancient or modern artifacts.

Excavations at Termez, an ancient site in Central Asia (South Uzbekistan), provided the Museum with an impressive array of antiquities: fragments of monumental sculpture, terracotta articles, samples of carved alabaster plaster and details of architectural decor from the twelfth century. After a long interval caused by the War of 1941-45, the excavations at Termez were resumed in 1961, and the Museum received another valuable accession-a collection of ceramics from Karatepe, a Buddhist centre at Termez (2nd to 4th centuries).

The ethnographic expeditions which since 1969 have been annually arranged by the Museum, helped to fill up certain gaps in its collections. Particularly fruitful were the expeditions to the mountainous districts of Tajikistan, to Turkmenia, Kirghizia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Among their acquisitions were some fine carpets, fabrics, embroideries, costumes, jewellery and metalwork of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As for the articles produced during the Soviet period, most of them were purchased at the various art exhibitions regularly held in Moscow. Some items were acquired directly from the artists' workshops.

The art of different nations of the Soviet East during different periods of their history is represented in the Museum's collections with a varying degree of completeness. Central Asiatic art-from antiquity to the present day-enjoys the best and most consistent representation. The Museum possesses a well-stocked collection of Central Asiatic sculpture-clay and terracotta pieces- from Afrasiab, the most ancient site of Samarkand, and from the sites of Kwarasm: Koy-Krylgan-kala (4th and 3rd centuries BC), Gyaur-kala (2nd century BC), Angkakala (1st and 2nd centuries) and Toprak-kala (2nd century BC). This collection was given to the Museum in 1953 by the Kwarasm expedition of the Institute of Ethnography, headed by Academician Sergei Tolstov.

The collection of Central Asiatic ceramics at the Museum is particularly representative. It contains fine examples of the earliest Central Asiatic ornamental art. Especially interesting are bowls from Chongdepe (4th and 3rd millennia BC). The Museum's collection of medieval Afrasiab pottery (9th to 12th centuries) is one of the best in the Soviet Union. In size, it is second only to the Samarkand and Tashkent collections-but by no means inferior to them in the quality of exhibits, and it excels the Hermitage collection in Leningrad in both. It contains samples of all shapes and decors characteristic of the golden age of medieval Samarkand ceramics: thin-sided glazed bowls, platters, vases and inkpots, decorated with geometric designs or interlacing plant patterns, with calligraphic inscriptions orzoomorphic motifs on a white, brown-red or black background.

The variety of architectural decor and the high level of craftsmanship in pottery-making is demonstrated by the tiles from the palaces and mosques of Samarkand and Bukhara of the Timurid and the post-Timurid periods, and by Samarkand household pottery of the same age. Since the eighteenth century the making of crude pottery decorated with richly coloured glazes has stood out in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan among their traditional handicrafts. The multitude of local schools of ceramics and their stylistic variety is well represented in that part of the Museum's collection which embraces the period from the eighteenth century to the present day. The Museum possesses samples of all the most interesting trends in contemporary pottery-making. The collection includes works by the best masters of Kwarasm, Rishtan, Khojent (now Leninabad), Kanibadam, Chorku, Gijduvan, Urgut, Katta-Kurgan and Shakhrisiabz.

A special place in the Museum's collection belongs to the Central Asiatic minor arts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries-the time when the artistic genius of the people revealed itself to the full. This collection embraces the entire variety of minor arts and displays metalwork, embroideries, textiles, traditional costumes, jewellery and carpets.

The Museum boasts an impressive display of textiles and carpets, which combined both utilitarian and decorative functions. Embroidered articles were in wide use with both the settled and nomadic peoples of Central Asia. The exhibits here demonstrate the superb artistic and technical skill characteristic of each period in the development of this art from the earliest to the most recent. The collection shows embroideries which come from all the major local centres-Nurata, Bukhara, Shakhrisiabz, Ura-Tube, Khojent, Tashkent, Urgut, Samarkand, etc. During the last ten years the number of the items on display has grown considerably due to acquisitions from private collections. Among the recent additions are some highly valuable, practically unique nineteenth-century articles representing hitherto unknown types of embroidery.

The textile section of the Soviet East Department is not very large. It numbers some 50 samples of silk and half-silk fabrics with stripes or decorated with cloud motifs. They mainly date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and come from Bukhara, the Fergana valley and Turkmenia. But there are several rare articles of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which are not to be found even in such celebrated museums of the country as the Hermitage or those of Tashkent and Samarkand.

The large and varied collection of rugs and carpets from Central Asia is the earliest in the Museum. It became the core of its stocks at a time when the latter were just being built up. Almost all the ethnical groups that lived in Turkmenia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are represented in this collection. Some unique examples date back to the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Thus the collection gives a clear idea of the evolution of carpet-making in Turkmenia in the course of the last two centuries. No less remarkable are the carpets of the Karakalpaks, a small nomadic people inhabiting the delta of the Amu-Darya river in Uzbekistan. Their carpets, although they have much in common with Turkmen ones, possess distinctive stylistic features and differ in ornamental motifs and colouring.

A small collection of Karakalpak handicrafts, including carpets and some fine nineteenth-century embroideries on coarse calico and broadcloth, was accumulated in the late 1950s by the artist Igor Savitsky (later Director of the Art Museum of Karakalpakia). Having then become part of the Museum of Oriental Art, this collection acquainted the public with the previously little known artistic legacy of the Karakalpaks and opened a new page in the art history of Central Asia.

During the recent years another interesting collection was built up at the Museum-that of felt articles, or koshmas. Koshma-making is an ancient and at the same time surprisingly up-to-date craft, still in wide use with the Central Asiatic nations. The collection consists of koshmas from Kazakhstan, Kirghizia and Turkmenia; it displays almost all known types of felt articles-rugs, wall-hangings, storage-bags-and illustrates all kinds of decorative techniques employed in their production.

A rich and varied display of Turkmen jewellery which is remarkable for its purity and reticence of style can be found in the jewellery section. Of equally high quality and excellent artistic taste is the jewellery from Kazakhstan. The collection also contains numerous silver articles from Kirghizia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The minor arts of the Caucasus are mainly represented in the Museum by the articles dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here again carpets hold a special place.

In Azerbaijan carpet-weaving has a long-standing tradition. Articles of various types and functions were produced there: pile- and flat-woven carpets, namazlyks (prayer-rugs), horse-cloths, saddle-bags, etc. The collection of the Museum gives a fairly complete picture of the development of Azerbaijani carpet-making in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Particularly noteworthy is the group of highly artistic flat-woven articles following the traditions of local weaving-kilim, sumakh, varni and sileh. Nowadays the technique of making them is no longer used outside Azerbaijan. Among these articles are bags for salt, spoons and scissors, shoulder- and saddle-bags, tablecloths, wall-hangings and horse-cloths. Flat-woven carpets are quite a rarity as far as other museums are concerned, which is to be regretted, for they are in no way inferior to pile carpets. They are no less colourful than the latter and as varied in their ornamental motifs; these include geometric and zoomorphic patterns going back to the earliest archaic prototypes.

An extremely valuable though small collection (22 items in all) represents Kaitag embroideries from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They were probably once produced in all the Avar and Dargin villages in Daghestan. Nowadays they are no longer in use and are to be found only in museums.

This collection includes some artifacts made at Kaitag (Dargin): small rectangular rugs made of brown and bluish pieces of cotton and embroidered in large archaic patterns of golden- and cherry-brown. In addition to these, there are several articles from Avar villages. They are embroidered in large golden-beige or wine-coloured rosettes on narrow rectangular stripes of blue cloth.

The collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Caucasian jewellery is fairly large and varied. The superb craftsmanship of the famous Daghestan jewellery was evolved by many generations of goldsmiths from the ancient times to this day. All the exhibits-numerous personal ornaments and weapons-demonstrate high proficiency in all kinds of techniques traditionally employed in the Caucasus: granulation, filigree work, niello, incision, chasing and gilding. The collection of the Museum represents almost all the regions of Daghestan traditionally renowned for their goldwork and jewellery-making.

On the whole, the collection of minor arts from Central Asia and the Caucasus gives a clear idea of the traditional crafts of various ethnic groups and periods. It reflects all the most characteristic and time-honoured kinds of applied art and includes a great number of very valuable and unique pieces.

The fine arts section of the Soviet East Department displays paintings, graphic works and sculptures from the Eastern Soviet republics and the Caucasus. They demonstrate the development of national culture and show the establishment of national artistic schools and the emergence of various forms of realistic painting in those regions, where it formerly did not exist. The collection also creates an overall picture of the level and character of fine arts in this territory of the Soviet Union. A small part of the stock comprises anonymous early nineteenth-century Georgian easel paintings, works by Armenian and Georgian artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including those who became especially popular in the Soviet period. The section also includes canvases by Russian artists who worked in Central Asia before the October Revolution. Among the most interesting pieces in this part of the collection are the Portrait of Vasily Popov and the Portrait of Prince Jamas Jambakur Orbeliani by anonymous Georgian artists, and some paintings by Armenian artists-the Portrait of G. Karajian by Hakop Hovnatanian and the Portrait of a Woman by Stepan Nersesian.

Of great artistic value are seven canvases by the well-known Armenian landscape-painter Gevork Bashinjagian, several works by the eminent Georgian artist Georgy Gabashvili and Carousal, a picture by the outstanding Georgian Primitivist Niko Pirosmanashvili.

The major part of the collection is formed by works of Soviet artists. Among them there are numerous paintings by Georgian, Azerbaijani and Uzbek artists of the 1920s and 1930s-the period when these artists were searching for new themes and modern interpretations of traditional national forms in art.

The Museum boasts a fine collection of works by Martiros Saryan-the founding father of contemporary Armenian painting. The collection shows his creative work of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Twentieth-century Armenian art is also represented in the Museum by the oldest generation of Armenian painters, Alexander Bazhbeuk-Melikian, Ovsep Karalian and Hakop Kodjoian and their successors, masters of the younger generations, Meger Abegian, Hovannes Zardarian, Grigor Khanjan and others. A valuable addition to the collection were the recently acquired paintings by such well-known artists as Ervand Kochar, Minas Avetisian and Hakop Hakopian.

The collection of paintings from Uzbekistan includes a number of interesting canvases by Russian artists who used to live there and who contributed to the development of the national art of the republic and to the education of young Uzbek artists. These are Pavel Benkov, Alexander Volkov, Alexander Nikolayev (Usto Mumin) and Nikolai Karakhan. The Museum has a representative collection of works by Ural Tansykbayev, an artist from the first generation of Uzbek painters in the Soviet period.

Deserving of special mention in the section of contemporary Georgian painting are the works by Yelena Akhvlediani, Lado Gudiashvili, David Kakabadze, Yakov Nikoladze, and others.

Turkmen art is represented by paintings of its founders, Ruvim Mazel, Biashim Nurali, Sergei Begliarovand Julia Daneshvar, by sculptures and graphic works produced in the 1960s and 1980s by Izzat Klychev, Durda Bairamov, KulnazarBekmuradovand Mamed Mamedov, whose names still head the list of contemporary Turkmen artists.

The art collections of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia and Tajikistan illustrate the processes which were taking place in the artistic life of the republics during several post-revolutionary decades. They include fine examples of the work of well-known artists, Semion Chuikov, Evgeny Sidorkin and Tahir Salakhov.

The fine arts collections of the Soviet East Department are constantly increasing, thus enabling the Museum to provide a really comprehensive picture of the art history of the Eastern Soviet republics.

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