The desert of dissidence: history of a museum

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N. Karaxan – Building a road (1932)

The Savitsky collection account is really fascinating, quaintness. An event not so known, lost at the borders of the Karakum Desert, between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, more exactly in Nukus, the capital of the Uzbek autonomous region of Karakalpakstan. The same region where there’s the Aral Lake, its southern part at least. But this story is above all concerning a man that consecrated his life to this collection: Igor Savitsky.

Savistky was born in 1915 in Kiev and his life was marked by the Octobre Revolution. Son of a wealthy family not likable to the Bolsheviks of course, Igor decided to approach the proletariat studying as electrician. But nature has to follow its flow, so the young Savistky’s intellectual impulses couldn’t be deleted. The same was about his passion for painting, soon frustrated by the academy of his time. Exactly as artist Savitsky arrived to Karakalpakstan the first time in 1950, following an archaeological and ethnographic expedition, and lightning struck.

By then, Central Asia culture interested Savistky, especially everything concerning Karakalpakstan. We don’t know Soviet rhetoric meaning in this course, taking Savitsky from bourgeois parlours to steppes and deserts. Surely the young missed electrician became an absolutely important local folk culture patron very soon. Savitsky was a tireless gatherer of artworks and handcrafts made by artists and artisans totally unknown, but everyone genuinely folk.

Savistky used endless funding means, being successful in creating a museum in Nukus, making of it a necessary landmark concerning Central Asia art and culture history, letting alone the substance of the new museum for the Karakalpaks’ identity. This population was living in poverty often treat badly by the Uzbek majority. Today Karakalpaks are proud of their identity, they don’t deem themselves Uzbek and they harbour separatist wishes even.

Our patron didn’t stop at this point and he didn’t be just a collector of local handcraft and Central Asian painter’s artworks. When, in 1966, authorities approved the museum, Savitsky started buying and treasuring artworks disputing the official position of socialist realism. Nukus turned in an out-and-out storehouse of productions created by artists unpopular to Soviet regime, so much that some of them were persecuted and closed in mental institutions. Karakalpakstan became the heart of the Soviet avant-garde, really an analogous gallery to the official ones, where artists, initially Uzbeks and from all Soviet Union later, were exhibited and then hidden on the occasion of official visits. Moreover, sometimes paintings were purchased through public money, thanks to Savitsky’s tricks.

The State Art Museum of Karakalpakastan Republic nowadays is dedicated to its founder. It’s one of the few galleries in the world where a lot of Soviet artists, members of painting schools one time condemned as “people enemy”, artworks can be admired. This is more valuable for the reason the museum is in a difficult environment as Karakalpakstan that take advantage of the museum surely. All this thanks to the passion of a single man spending every minute of his time for the museum, devoting his last energies also when, by the time exhausted, his end was approaching.

Official museum website: http://www.museum.kr.uz/

Other website: http://www.savitskycollection.org/

Credits: Ivan Safyan Abrams on Flickr

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  1. Trackback: A journey to Uzbekistan: following the ancient trade routes | Farfalle e trincee

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