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On A Pedestal: The Rise And Fall And Rise Of Uzbek Sculptor Ilhom Jabbarov

  • Bruce Pannier

After Uzbek sculptor Ilhom Jabbarov refused the wishes of former President Islam Karimov. he lost his car and his home, laid down his chisel, and took up beekeeping.

Authorities in Uzbekistan have selected an artist to create a sculpture of the late former President Islam Karimov, and that person is 72-year-old Ilhom Jabbarov, a native of the Tashkent region.

Jabbarov’s previous statues are among the best-known works of contemporary art in Uzbekistan: the statues of Amir Timur in Tashkent and Samarkand, as well the statues of the Lamenting Mother and the Happy Mother in Tashkent.

Few could argue Jabbarov’s talent or ability.

But the choice is a bit ironic.

Karimov knew Jabbarov personally. Considering how many of Jabbarov’s sculptures are displayed in cities around Uzbekistan, it would be fair to say Karimov had an appreciation for Jabbarov’s works.

But Jabbarov is an artist, and his vision of how his creations should look conflicted with Karimov’s on at least two occasions.

This is Jabbarov's mock-up for his sculpture of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
This is Jabbarov's mock-up for his sculpture of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Jabbarov envisaged his statue of 13th-century ruler Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, the last of the Khwarazm shahs, as mounted on a horse. Karimov felt that only 14th-century conqueror Amir Timur, who Karimov’s Uzbekistan declared to be the father of the Uzbek nation, deserved to be immortalized on horseback.

The president prevailed, and the statue in Urgench is of the last Khwarazm shah standing.

But about four years ago, Karimov wanted another work dedicated to the defenders of Uzbekistan -- the soldiers -- and he wanted a colored flag of Uzbekistan to be part of the work.

Jabbarov refused, and shortly thereafter his fortunes plummeted. He lost his car, his home, and some felt he was headed for prison.

His fame may have saved him from incarceration, but his presence apparently was no longer welcome in Tashkent, so he went into the hills outside Tashkent and took up beekeeping.

That is where Jabbarov stayed until Karimov's death was announced in September and the selection committee for a sculptor to immortalize the late president decided Jabbarov was the man for the job.

Reports said there were 58 artists competing for the commission. There were sculptors not only from Uzbekistan but also South Korea, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Germany, Italy, and Australia.

This statue of Amir Timur on horseback by Jabbarov can be seen in Tashkent.
This statue of Amir Timur on horseback by Jabbarov can be seen in Tashkent.

There is not much information about the selection committee, beyond that the head of the committee was Abdulla Aripov, who was deputy prime minister when he was chosen for this duty.

Qishloq Ovozi has mentioned Aripov before. He was in charge of information systems and telecommunications in Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2012, and when Karimov’s eldest daughter, Gulnara, was targeted by investigators over suspicious multimillion-dollar transactions with foreign telecommunications companies, Karimov sacked Aripov.

Karimov's successor, Shavkat Mirziyaev, brought Aripov back from political exile. Aripov is prime minister now.

So a man whom Karimov fired has helped select a man Karimov humbled and essentially exiled to build a statue to Karimov.

Shukhrat Babajanov of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service contributed to this report
The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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