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UN: Contemporary Tajik Art On Display At New York Headquarters

Two prominent contemporary painters from Tajikistan have opened an exhibition at UN headquarters in New York. The show is timed to mark the 10th anniversary of the Republic of Tajikistan, but it is also meant to reflect the development of peace and stability in a country still recovering from a long civil war. RFE/RL's Nikola Krastev reports.

United Nations, 7 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- More than 25 paintings by two Tajik artists went on view this week in the lobby of the United Nations' New York headquarters.

The vivid, colorful works -- at times evoking the styles of Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne -- are providing Western art lovers with an unusual glimpse into the world of contemporary Central Asian art.

For the government of Tajikistan, the exhibit of paintings by Suhkrob Kurbanov and Faridun Negmat-Zoda also has a greater purpose. The high-profile showcase is meant to promote the notion that peace and stability are finally taking hold in Tajikistan, four years after the signing of an agreement that ended the country's five-year civil war.

Tajikistan's ambassador to the United Nations, Rashid Alimov, told RFE/RL during the exhibit's opening ceremony that art and dialogue are both powerful mediums for promoting peace:

"Through dialogue, people can understand each other better -- the world can be a better place [to live]. But most important is [using dialogue] to avert the threat of conflict, not only among civilizations, but also among different ethnic and religious groups. We want to demonstrate through this exhibit that even during the times of civil conflict, during the times when it was very difficult in Tajikistan, our painters did all they can to contribute [to peace] through their works. When you see their works from the period of conflict -- a dramatic period in the history of Tajikistan -- you can see that their works are urging peace."

Kurbanov told RFE/RL that the pieces on display at the UN share traits with artists from other Central Asian states -- including a preference for brighter colors, which he says counterbalance the often gloomier aspects of real life:

"I simply wanted to present a cheerful, beautiful exhibition, to show that Tajikistan is not such a dreary country. People live there, work there, they move on, they see [the world] in normal colors."

Kurbanov, who was a deputy in the final Soviet parliament, has been chairman of the Tajik Union of Artists since 1982. He says that all of his paintings featured in the UN exhibition -- numbering more than 20 -- were produced this year.

The smaller collection of paintings by Negmat-Zoda are recent works as well. Negmat-Zoda is a student of Kurbanov's and has spent the last 10 years in the U.S.

The Tajik painters' show at the UN was also presented as an extension of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's "Dialogue Among Civilizations" initiative. Khatami's proposal was adopted by the UN General Assembly, and the year 2001 has been declared the UN Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.

Despite the bright colors and prevailing jovial mood in his paintings -- many depicting human forms in rapturous connection with nature -- Kurbanov told RFE/RL that today many of the Tajik artists are facing an uncertain future:

"We [the painters] were spoiled by the Soviet system, because the art was created for state purposes. But now artists have found themselves in a situation where they have to prove that they're good. So it has become an issue of existence -- to make a living [as an artist], to think, to move fast. Before [1991] -- it was too laid-back and there wasn't any movement."

Asked how many contemporary painters in Tajikistan today are able to make a living through art, Kurbanov told RFE/RL that there are very few:

"Exclusively through art -- very few [can make a living]. Most of the people are not accustomed [to the new realities], it's difficult for them to find their own way -- or, as they say these days in Tajikistan, their own market."

Kurbanov was among 50 painters whose works were shown at an exhibition dedicated to the UN's 50th anniversary, held in Geneva in 1995. The works of Kurbanov and Negmat-Zoda can be seen in art galleries worldwide. Their UN exhibit runs through tomorrow.