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Discovery Uzbekistan Travel Guide #14/2010

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A cultural oasis in Karakalpakstan the museum in Nukus

"Museums are not just deposits of the past but should let the past speak to the present in its own voice, which could be surprisingly different. Museums can also be the unique voice of local communities, unique because each place on earth is unique in its history, its landscape and its local cultures. I prefer to see museums as centres of living culture and active learning.

We have awarded the Nukus museum a grant precisely because of this. We hope this grant will catalyse support for the excellent work this Museum is doing to speak to younger artists inspired by Savitsky's traditions."

Rafique Keshavjee
The Christensen Fund

UNESCO Uzbekistan Director Barry Lane said, "By combining training in conservation with original creation, the project will build local capacity to manage the collection and at the same time promote Nukus and Karakalpakstan as an interesting destination for cultural tourism, helping to create sustainable employment in one of the poorest and environmentally hard hit regions of the country."

"These thousands of canvases are the cultural fingerprints of diverse peoples. It is crucial that we preserve this legacy and the creative spirit of its creator, Igor Savitsky," said Restaurateurs Sans Frontieres Director, Pavlos Politis.

The Savitsky State Art Museum in Karakalpakstan, an area well off the beaten track and notorious mainly for the shrinking of the Aral Sea, contains an astounding 90,000 works including a comprehensive collection of Karakalpak art and ethnographic items and the largest collection of Soviet avant-garde art outside Russia. It was the inspiration of one man, Igor Savitsky, who walked a dangerous line between his passion for art and the authorities' proscribed view of what art should be.

His legacy - the collection itself and the inspiring story of passion and defiance and belief in what can be achieved against the odds - is one of immense importance to Uzbek culture.

In March 2004 Polities and his team executed the documentation phase of a restoration project at the Nukus Museum with the support of the Open Society Institute of Uzbekistan and the Friends of Nukus Museum. The team digitally photographed and analysed the condition of over 50 of the museum's paintings while training the museum staff on standard documentation methods. Some of the works, including one painting by the famed artist Lyssenko, have never been publicly displayed due to their poor condition.

"The training was a big success," said museum director, Marinika Babanazarova. "We sincerely hope that RSF's efforts will raise the standards of local restoration in Nukus and throughout Uzbekistan." In March 2005 RSF will send a team of four canvas restoration specialists to Nukus for the first restoration and training workshop at the Museum. With support from The Christensen Fund, UNESCO Uzbekistan and the British Council Uzbekistan, RSF will carry out two such workshops in 2005. Depending on the availability of funds, RSF will extend the project with three more workshops in 2006.

"Of the several thousand paintings more than half require some sort of attention, many canvases are not even stretched onto support, others are grossly deformed by storage conditions. Technically speaking, this project presents some very unusual challenges to our team."

According to RSF restorer Laurence Durand, "The greatest challenge will be to sustain the restoration activity permanently. "Our team could work around the clock for several years and barely put a dent in the needs of that collection. So we put a lot of stock in the training component of the project. The success of this project will be measured not in number of paintings restored during the workshops but in the quality of the training. The future of those paintings depends upon it."

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