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Uzbek Mural Cover-Up: Half-Naked Angel Gets Conservative Makeover

Uzbek officials and artists alike have condemned the changes as an act of vandalism.

For decades, residents of the eastern Uzbek city of Kokand could expect to see an angel -- a scantily clad one, at that, with her white wings spread and a strategically placed necklace covering her breasts.

But that image, part of a Soviet-era fresco called East Meets West, which adorns a wall of the local theater, has been destroyed. Today the angel peers at residents from behind a hastily painted face veil, her shapely figure and bare midriff covered by a shapeless, oversized dress.

Who is responsible for the alteration, carried out sometime last summer by what one art critic described as a mere "housepainter" who has "no idea about art," is unclear. But the original artist and the Uzbek government aim to find out.

Uzbek officials and artists alike have condemned the changes as an act of vandalism, and as the central government investigates who is responsible it has flown Bahodir Jalolov to Kokand to see if he can restore his mural to its former glory.

The angel is not the only character in the fresco to have received a makeover.

"Several historical figures depicted in their Soviet Army uniforms had their attire repainted and changed to local shepherds' clothes," says art critic Akmal Rizaev, who visited the site recently.

According to Rizaev, the changes were made at the order of Kokand's former mayor ahead of a visit to the city by President Shavkat Mirziyoev in June 2017. RFE/RL was unable to contact the former mayor, Rahmatali Jalilov, who left office this spring, for comment.

Jalolov, 70, says he only recently learned that his artwork had undergone a transformation.

The artist, whose works have been displayed in galleries at home and abroad, says he wasn't consulted or informed about plans to change his Kokand mural.

"I am still alive, I haven't died. I don't understand why they are butchering my paintings," Jalolov told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on June 22.

"I wrote a letter to the president and complained about this vandalism," Jalolov said.

The Culture Ministry confirmed to RFE/RL that the fresco in Kokand had indeed been "ruined," and laid blame on Dzhalilov and his administration.

Ministry official Mavluda Askarkhojaeva told RFE/RL that the ministry set up an investigative team that arrived in Kokand this week.

Askarkhojaeva said the office of the former mayor decided to cover up the half-naked angel because they deemed the image wasn't compatible with Uzbek moral standards.

Similarly, the images of the Soviet soldiers were changed because they did not fit with Uzbek tradition, the official added.

"The ministry condemns this act that inflicted damage to cultural heritage under its protection," Askarkhojaeva said. "Once the investigative group concludes its work, the ministry will demand punishment of the culprits."

The city's current administration said it was cooperating with the Culture Ministry's probe and hopes that the murals can be restored.

Jalolov arrived in Kokand on June 25 to begin restoration work. "These characters are all part of our history depicted in art," the artist said.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Shukhrat Bobojon.