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Central Asia: 'Reorientation' -- Weimar Exhibit Gives Fresh Perspective

In the wake of 11 September, there has been a concerted effort among different nations and cultures to bridge divides and learn more about each other. It was with this in mind that art experts organized the "Reorientation: Art on Central Asia" exhibit, which opened in Weimar, Germany, earlier this month. RFE/RL spoke to one of the exhibit's organizers about the new role of Central Asian contemporary art.

Prague, 22 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Weimar is a quiet city in central Germany with a population of just some 60,000. It has been home to some of the country's greatest writers and thinkers, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Both Goethe, with his "West-Eastern Divan," a collection of poetry celebrating Eastern culture, and Nietzsche, with his deeply influential philosophic work "Thus Spake Zarathustra," brought a deep appreciation of Persian and Arab culture to the central German city. In Weimar today, monuments to Goethe and the legendary Persian poet Hafiz Shirazi stand side by side, as though engaged in silent philosophic debate over the East-West divide.

With a new exhibit, Weimar has once again become a meeting point for Western and Eastern cultures. The reorientation exhibit, which opened 13 July at Weimar's ACC Gallery, presents an impressive collection of contemporary art from Central Asia.

Frank Motz is the director of ACC and an organizer of the exhibit, which features not only traditional media like paintings and photographs, but also video recordings and entire installments dedicated to recreating, as precisely as possible, life in the Central Asian republics.

Motz told RFE/RL that the work of featured artists like 37-year-old Abilsaid Atabekov of Uzbekistan and 38-year-old Yerbossyn Meldibekov of Kazakhstan clearly reflect the new direction of life in Central Asia. "What's going on in these nations is kind of a reorientation, in the sense that it's a new orientation going away from the communist Soviet Union; it's a new orientation toward Islamic ideas, Islamic religion. It's also a new orientation in the sense that many young people, especially many young artists, are looking for, maybe, a third way or another alternative way to design their own life, to design or develop art," Motz said.

The works collected in the exhibit, which also includes pieces by Shukhrat Babadjan of Uzbekistan and Yelena Vorobeva and Viktor Vorobev, ethnic Russians born in Turkmenistan, among other Central Asian artists, propose to answer not only where the region is heading, but if its ties to the past remain. The exhibit is complemented with works by Russian and German artists who add perspective by looking at the region from outside.

Motz said a strong current running throughout the Central Asian works is an examination of dictatorships. He said the question is a poignant one for Central Asians living under independent, presidential rule that is in many ways as autocratic as life under Soviet rule. "I think the reflection is, first of all, questioning the old political systems, and within that it's also about questioning new political systems. Learning from communism, I think, also means questioning new systems, like dictatorships, or dictator systems, for instance, in Uzbekistan. I think that artists, or people who have grown up in dictatorship systems, are much more sensitive and questioning about new political systems," Motz said.

One of the most outspoken artists on the topic of dictatorship is Meldibekov, whose piece, "Pastan" -- a collection of photographs and video clips -- focuses on the complex social circumstances faced by Central Asians. A series of photographs by the husband-and-wife team of Viktor and Yelena Vorobev, which depicts worn-out Soviet relics on sale at a flea market, is similar in their bitter observation of everyday life.

German art critic Andrea Dietrich said the Weimar exhibit sheds light not only on the sociopolitical realities of Central Asia, but on the region's diverse culture and traditional life as well. "I think it is a region of big contrast, of contrast between a very old culture, a very ancient culture and then now, this time, after the Soviet Union period. Now you have all these contrasts between a nomadic kind of [life] and between very modern and socialist cities. What else? You have also this shamanistic culture, you have Islamic renovation now. All these things, I think, they are a melting pot," Dietrich said.

This blend of cultural diversity and political evolution reflected in the exhibit," according to Frank Motz, makes Central Asia a small model of the wider reality of international politics. As international relations and alliances shift in the wake of 11 September, Motz said, the West would do well to study the impact that authoritarian rule and repressed dissent have had on an area like Central Asia. "To learn more about, for example, Central Asia means to learn more about ourselves, not to forget our own past and to help to find ways to include Islamism in a heterogeneous society and not to disintegrate or not to kick out any kind of religious or political ideas. So we just have to learn, especially America has to learn to include [these ideas]. If we do not learn how to bring together all Eurasia, Europe and Asia, much better than we did in the past, then we might get some more catastrophes as we got on 11 September," Motz said.

But despite its emphasis on internationalism and acceptance, the exhibit has so far attracted little coverage in the Western press. Organizers say they hope to call more attention to the exhibit before it closes on 1 September.