Igor Savitsky Museum is an art museum with as a treasure trove of lost avant-guard Soviet art created when the Bolshevik Revolution was recent history and people had high hopes, grand ambitions and life seemed liked it had unlimited possibilities before the authorities clamped down. Charlotte Douglas, a professor of Russian art at New York University, told the New York Times, "There are wonderful artists people have never heard of, including women, and great works from artists we thought we understood but know we realize we don't." Many of the artists had been locked away on gulags.

The museum possesses more than 30,000 paintings, only a fraction of which are shown, and is regarded as the best collection of Soviet-era dissident art. Some of the works are by famous artists such as Ivan Kudryahove and Lubov Popova, whose works have been shown at the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art and have been sold for $300,000 in the West. There are more than 1,400 works by the Jewish artist Ruvim Mazael, who worked side by side with Marc Chagall.

Interesting works include “Apocalypse” by Alexeu Rybnokov, featuring a rider in horseback with a trumpet wonderfully executed with bold colors; “Capital” by Mikhail Kurzin, with grotesque couple that brings to mind the works of Otto Dix; Dumplings”, a realistic representation of one of Russia’s favorite foods which the starving artist Mikhail Kurzin, made after being released from prison; and “The Bull”, a crazed animal rendered almost completely in blue painted by Yevgeni Lysenko, an inmate at a metal hospital, There are also geometric pieces by Liubov Popova, works by Robert Rafailovich Falk and impressionistic scenes of local life by Viktor Ufimstev.

The reason these works are in Uzbekistan is that the artists who create them painted them here while they were either exiled or imprisoned and Nukus happened to be the home of the collector Igor Savitsky, who dedicated his life to collecting works by dissident artist that otherwise would ahve been destroyed. He opened the museum in 1966. He collected more than 90,000 objects of art, with hundreds of works by a single artist. The museum also has an interesting collection of crafts. Interested item her include ornately designed women's silver belts and sculpted charmed intended to protect wearers genitals from the evil eye. In the gifts ship Karakalpak carpets are sold.

The museum is housed in a white two-story building and its annex, both of which were part of chemical weapons plant. The paint is pealing, the employees wear frayed uniforms. The lighting is poor and paintings with beaten up frames have been placed all over the walls in a haphazard manor. Often dozens are placed together on a single wall. The bathroom is an outhouse. Trays of water serve as humidifiers. In the early 2000s, many of the employees earned less than $25 a month. Often days passes without a single visitor showing up.

Dissident Art in Uzbekistan

Erich Follath wrote in Der Spiegel, “Vyacheslav Okhunov's secret artist's studio is located in a particularly rundown part of Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. A sad collection of communist-era concrete apartment blocks rise above the mud and potholes, and there is crumbling stucco as far as the eye can see. Before the artist unlocks the iron door, he carefully looks to the left and to the right to see if there is anyone from the secret service shadowing him. But this time, there is no one there. [Source: Erich Follath, Der Spiegel, April 3, 2015 ^*^]

"Sorry that the floor in here is so uneven," he says. "Water drips through from above." Okhunov, with his bright gray beard, shrugs his shoulders and, as is often the case, a sort of half-mocking, half-resigned smile creeps over his face. Creative chaos prevails in his studio. There are large painted canvases and sculptures bearing Muslim and Christian symbols; a set of deer antlers hangs on the wall. This is the domain of perhaps Uzbekistan's most important artist, a figure who has been banned from traveling abroad because of his criticism of the regime. ^*^

“Okhunov, 66, is something like the Ai Weiwei of Central Asia. Exhibitions of his work have been mounted at the Pompidou Center in Paris and it has been featured in the internationally famous Documenta art show in Kassel as well as at the Venice Biennale. Among his best-known works are the installation "A Cage for the Leader," which features 250 polystrene busts of Lenin stuffed into a tight box covered in prison-like bars. ^*^

“Artist Okhunov has repeatedly attacked the regime in his blogs, essays and art installations. In contrast to China, though, there is nothing even remotely resembling a civil society in Uzbekistan. This makes Okhunov something of a lone campaigner in the battle against the regime's corruption. "Just yesterday I was at an art opening, and everyone turned away from me," he says. "No one dared to shake my hand." ^*^

“When asked if he considers himself to be a political dissident, Okhunov hesitates. "I always automatically find myself to be contrary to our authoritarian regime," he says. "Islam Karimov is a dictator — he tyrannizes us all with his Mafioso clique. And things just keep getting worse with him." Okhunov also predicted that last Sunday's "so-called vote" would be nothing more than a "farce." In the end, Karimov secured 90 percent support in an election observers said fell well short of international standards. ^*^

“At the time, regime opponent Okhunov wrote a biting satire of her egomania and extravagance. He says the title of his essay was "Guli loves Guli". He posted it on a website, but only remained online a short time before the censors removed it. Okhunov's latest artwork is a video installation. It shows people repeatedly running against a wall before turning around and doing it again and failing again. There's no escape for the desperate people in the piece. He calls it "Dead End." ^*^

Crafts in Uzbekistan

Uzbek crafts items include silk scarves, decorated daggers and swords, embroidered skull caps, velvet robes with gold thread designs, hand-dyed and hand printed silks, wooly Turkmen hats, gold-embroidered slippers, hand-carved wooden cases, hand-made silver belts, felt rugs, saddles, scissors shaped like birds, hand-woven carpets, wall hangings and hand-painted miniatures, hand-carved wooden decorative objects. Many carpets come from Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

Under Soviet rule, many of these crafts were viewed as a sign of backwardness and discouraged. Craftsmen were heavily taxed and encouraged to take up "socially useful" tasks such as picking cotton by hand. Carter Malik, author of a book on Uzbek crafts, told the New York Times "During the Soviet period, a lot of artisans were forced out of their traditional roles. Many crafts came close to disappearing, and some have been entirely lost."

Guido Goldman, a Harvard professor and collector of Uzbek art, told the New York Times, "The Russians were not interested in developing anything that could be a symbol of nationalism. They encouraged stuff that could be mass produced."

Revival of Uzbek Crafts

Craftsmanship has been resurrected with the break up of the Soviet Union. Craft people are busy making and markets are full of velvet robes with gold thread designs, hand-dyed and hand printed silks, hand-carved wooden cases, hand-made silver belts, hand-woven carpets, wall hangings and hand-painted miniatures.

Malik told the New York Times, "A very big and very important crafts revival is going on in this country...Now we're seeing young people seeking out the one or two old masters who may still be alive, and picking up where those masters left off."

Stephen Kinzer wrote in the New York Times, "Signs of revival are hard to miss. In courtyards in the northeast Fergana region, boys watch respectful as bearded elders show them how to mold, fire and paint ceramic pottery. In Samarkand, girls compete for space in classes where they are taught how to use natural dyes to produce the kinds of silken garments their great-grandparents once made. And in Bukhara, a host of crafts have been rescued just as they seemed to be dying out."

The Artisan Development Center has been established in the Old Town of Bukhara.

Carpets in Uzbekistan

Many Turkmenistan carpets are misnamed Bukhara carpets because that is where they were sold. Rugs produced in Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan in Xinjiang in western China are collectively known as Samarkands.

New York Times reported: “Samarkand rugs are not woven in Samarkand, the second-largest city in Uzbekistan. Most come from the villages of East Turkestan, in China, and are then passed through Samarkand, a 2,700-year-old city. It was a market town on the Silk Road, the trade route between China and Europe.“Everything was going on there,” said Nader Bolour, the owner of Doris Leslie Blau. “Samarkand was stuck in the crossroads between India and Russia, China and Europe.” [Source: New York Times, March 14, 2008 \=/]

“The city has been inhabited since 700 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered it in 329 B.C. The Mongols sacked it in 1220. Tamerlane made it his capital in 1370. “Samarkand is history’s definitive melting pot,” Judith Glass, an antique-rug consultant, writes in the catalog. The carpets “display themes from many cultures, including China (with fretwork borders, lotus blossoms and cloud bands); India (with the swastika denoting infinity); Turkey (with bold reciprocal borders and carnations); and Persia (with floral trellis work). \=/

“These are sturdy wool rugs, not like silk Persian carpets. “The weave in these carpets is actually quite coarse,” Mr. Bolour said. “They are all about color and design, not fineness of weave.” He is attracted to their unusual color combinations. “None are red and blue like Oriental carpets,” he said. “They have very soft colors with a little tweak: magenta with acid green, peachy beige with brown, saffron yellow with lacquer red, bone with brown or slate blue.” Each rug incorporates woven symbols. Three medallions together may represent Buddha. Pomegranates signify prosperity and fertility.” \=/

See Separate Article on CARPETS OF TURKMENISTAN Under Culture under Turkmenistan.

Textile Crafts and Weaving

Uzbekistan is known for weaving. It is particularly famous for silk and cotton wall hangings, embroidered tapestry covers (“suzani”), bridal coverlets and bed spreads (“ruijo”), and tie-died silks (“ikat”) often used for women’s dresses.

Suzanis have traditionally been given to guests as welcome gestures and gifts, Certain patterns are associated with certain occasions. There are certain patterns, for example, associated with the suzanis exchanged between families that are negotiating a marriage. A design with large red circles surrounded by black ivylike patterns with white spaces embellished with tiny pearls has traditionally been given by a young man to his future in-laws. The designs have traditional, historical and symbolic meanings.

“Rujio” were used to hide the bride during the wedding ceremony to prevent her from being possessed by spirits. After the ceremony they were used as bedspreads. The women who made them hoped help bring prosperity and health to the bride by using auspicious motifs such as red circles and pomegranates to bring many children. Some times they look like applique work but are fastidiously hand-embroidered. Sometimes pieces are purposely left undone because a perfect pieces is regard as an invitation for bad luck.

There is an old story about a weaver named Atlas who tried to win the heart of princess with his work. After working so hard his hands were bloodied, and repeatedly being rejected, he decided to drown himself in a river, As he put his bloodied hands into the river a beautiful pattern emerged, with gold from the setting sun, green from the trees, blue from the reflected sky and red from the blood on his hands. Atlas decided to make this patten in his cloth. The princess saw the work and realized how much he loved her and married him.

Silk Production in Uzbekistan

The Fergana Valley was an important link on the Silk Road. Not only that it has been a major center of silk production in its own right for a long time, perhaps as far back as the A.D. 4th century. Today, Uzbekistan produces about 30,000 metric tons of silk cocoons a year. Most of them are produced in the area in and around the Fergana Valley towns of Margalin and Kokand.

Mansur Mirovalev of Associated Press wrote: “The silkworm business dates back centuries to the Silk Road that ran through this Central Asian country. Kokand, the name of the town in the fertile Fergana Valley where” there are many family silk farms, “is the same as the Uzbek word for "cocoon." Kokand was the destination of the first westbound Chinese caravan carrying silk in 121 B.C. that started the fabled trade route. [Source: Mansur Mirovalev, Associated Press, August 29, 2010]

Silk production is largely automated and done in Soviet era factories. Even so the raising of silk worms is still a “cottage industry” done primarily at people’s homes. As was true in the Soviet era, the government provides anyone who is willing to raise the silkworms with 20 kilograms of very small silkworm grubs, which are placed in special boxes in special rooms and fed mulberry leaves gathered from trees near the homes of the farmers raising them.

At the start the 20 kilograms of grubs eat about three kilograms of mulberry leaves a day. As they grow they eat more and more. After a month the grubs have grown into larvae that consume 300 kilograms of mulberry leaves a day. Not long after that the silkworms stop eating and spend about a week making their silk cocoons.

The original 20 kilograms of grubs produces from 80 to 120 kilograms of silk, which silk producers buy at around $1 or $2 a kilogram. Some worms are allowed to hatch into moths. Their eggs are collected.

Silk Industry in Uzbekistan

Mansur Mirovalev of Associated Press wrote: The Uzbekistan silk industry’s “annual revenues are tiny compared with the $1 billion cotton industry, but the government clearly prizes silk as a link — and tourist draw — to the glory days of the Silk Road. It also considers silk an export item that has to be state-controlled — like the exports of cotton, gold, peregrine falcons and the pelts of newborn lambs. [Source: Mansur Mirovalev, Associated Press, August 29, 2010 /*]

“Uzbekistan's production accounts for less than 5 percent of the world total, and is dwarfed by China's. But it's proportionately the world's highest — almost a kilogram (two pounds) per head of the population of 27 million.Kakhhor Yavkashtiyev, head of the silk growing department at the Agriculture Ministry, says 90 percent of Uzbekistan's 2 million farmers are involved in the annual harvest. /*\

“Yavkashtiyev acknowledges that local authorities prescribe quotas based on farm size. A farmer with 50 to 60 hectares (120 to 150 acres) "must harvest two or three tons of raw cocoons," he said. Artificial substitutes such as viscose and nylon have greatly diminished demand for real silk, but it remains a material associated with luxury and style, and has medicinal and military uses such as parachutes. /*\

“The most recent available figures, from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, put Uzbekistan's silk earnings at $57 million in 2005 from 17,000 tons of raw cocoons.” In August 2010, “Uzbek media put the harvest at 25,200 metric tons. /*\

“Uzbek Ipagi, the state-run monopoly, exports Uzbek silk to China, India, South Korea and Western Europe. Some stays in Uzbekistan to be woven into scarves or rugs at small factories and mainly sold to tourists. They rarely reach Western stores. "I never saw any silk garment with a tag 'Made in Uzbekistan'" in U.S. stores, silk expert Greiss said. Several joint ventures process Uzbek silk, but Western investment here is limited, and the companies keep a low profile. Rustam Zakhidov, director general of Silver Silk, an Uzbek-British joint venture, said that his company sells silk ribbons and thread worth $1.5 million a year to India, Vietnam, China and Turkey. He would not identify his British partners.” /*\

Silk Industry Labor in Uzbekistan

Mansur Mirovalev of Associated Press wrote: Silk-growing nations such as South Korea and Japan have switched to less labor-intensive mulberry bushes and mechanized leaf harvest. But Uzbek authorities prefer to "follow the old school where big mulberry trees are utilized for feeding silkworms," says Hisham Greiss, a Chicago-based independent expert on silk farming. [Source: Mansur Mirovalev, Associated Press, August 29, 2010 /*]

“And they are relentless. Sukhrobjon Ismoilov of the Expert Working Group, an independent think tank based in the capital, Tashkent, says local officials threaten to annul land leases, delay payments through government-affiliated banks, and even resort to physical abuse. Although Soviet-era collective farms were disbanded after Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, their land was never privatized, which leaves farmers in constant fear of sanctions and even court convictions for not meeting quotas for cotton, grain and silk cocoons, rights groups say. The Najot group said at least 20 farmers were jailed for terms of up to several years in 2009 alone./*\

"Farmers and agricultural workers earn low wages, which the state seldom pays on a regular basis," said a 2009 U.S. State Department report on Uzbekistan. "The government controls the agriculture sector, dictates what farms grow, and buys directly from the farmers to sell abroad." Farmers say they are threatened with fines or loss of their land leases for missing quotas, and that these are so high that they have no choice but to draft their children into the work. /*\

“In 2009, the Uzbek Ipagi monopoly sold cocoons for about $6 a kilogram ($2.70 a pound) — or almost eight times what it paid the farmers, and even that money isn't guaranteed, say the farmers, who complain that payment can be delayed for months, even years. Pointing to the dry mulberry twigs in his yard, farmer Kayumov said: "All we have left is firewood for the winter."”

Child Labor Used to Produce Silk in Uzbekistan

Reporting from Kokand, Uzbekistan, Mansur Mirovalev of Associated Press wrote: “For one month a year, from morning to night, Dilorom Nishanova grows silkworms, a painstaking and exhausting job. She has been doing it since she was 8. Uzbekistan's authoritarian government insists child labor is banned, but Nishanova, now 15, hasn't heard about it. She and her siblings, aged 9 to 17, think it's perfectly natural to be helping their father grow silkworms, as well as cotton and wheat. "We just help our parents," she said, her braided dark hair covered with a traditional Muslim scarf. "That's what children have to do, right?" Not so, say Uzbek rights groups. They say kids shouldn't be laborers, especially in May, the breeding season, which happens to fall during school exams. [Source: Mansur Mirovalev, Associated Press, August 29, 2010 /*]

“The use of child labor in Uzbek cotton-picking has been widely documented, and Walmart and several other U.S. chain stores won't stock it. But the silk industry has largely escaped international scrutiny. Kakhhor Yavkashtiyev, head of the silk growing department, said "Children are not involved, only adults are." Umurzak Kayumov, a 51-year-old farmer from the village of Naiman near the eastern city of Namangan, says his children as well as grandchildren help during cocoon season, when "We suffer for 25 days, from 4 a.m. until midnight."/*\

“For the farmers and their children, "silk farming opens an annual cycle of forced labor and abuse by authorities," said Ganikhon Mamatkhonov, a rights activist who investigated numerous cases of abuse of Uzbek farmers. The risks these advocates run are considerable. Months after Mamatkhonov spoke to the AP in May, 2009, he was jailed for five years on bribery charges — one of dozens of government critics imprisoned in recent years. (Mamatkhonov's colleagues say he was framed.) Underage labor is not limited to Uzbekistan's silk industry; it has been exposed in India's silk industry too. But this former Soviet republic seems unique in the lengths to which it goes to keep the silk spinning.” /*\

Family Silk Production in Uzbekistan

Mansur Mirovalev of Associated Press wrote: “In Kokand, the high-intensity job of raising silkworms becomes evident from talking to Dilorom and her family. Her father, Adkham, a bony 42-yearold, farms four hectares (10 acres) of loamy land. In early May, he said, an officials from a state-owned nursery handed him two 30-gram (one-ounce) boxes of silkworm eggs to be nurtured into some 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of cocoons. [Source: Mansur Mirovalev, Associated Press, August 29, 2010 /*]

“Within four weeks of hatching, silkworms grow to 10,000 times their original, poppy-seed size. Their creamy stomachs turn greenish from their exclusive diet of mulberry leaves, and they need constant attention. "They're as helpless as newborn babies," Dilorom said. They feed seven times a day and die if their meal is an hour late. Dead ones must be removed promptly lest they infect the others swarming among the fresh mulberry twigs that Dilorom has risen at dawn to gather.

“Sensitive to light, noise and breeze, the silkworms grow up in a humid barn next to the family's dilapidated adobe house. Their munching sounds like the patter of raindrops. Speaking of this year's season, Dilorom recalled: "We worked hard, had to miss some classes. Just like many other kids in school." And "In some schools, they raise silkworms as part of their home economics class," said Khaitboy Yakubov of Najot, a rights group in the western city of Urgench./*\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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