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Tashkent strikes the high notes of revivalism


Combining diplomacy and panache, an Uzbek woman initiates a rather glamorous revolution to put her country back on the cultural map of the world
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: January 10, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Uzbekistan | Tashkent | Gulnara Karimova |

Experts and political scientists, while discussing the merits and fallouts of the disintegration of USSR, often leave the social impact behind. Naturally, in spite of achieving a degree of religious and political freedom along with sovereignty, the nations in Central Asia suffered on the social front from the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Every nation in the region tried to supplant it with their home-grown version of social initiatives, with limited or no success. But there indeed is a surprise exception: Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation, more commonly known as Fund Forum.

Uzbekistan, a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia, has seen its star rise and wane in the last 2000 years. Its cities, especially Samarkand and Bukhara, once centres of art and culture, saw decline in status during the second half of the last millennium till Uzbekistan declared independence from Soviet Union two decades ago. However, limited economic opportunities, dependence on a single resource – in this case, cotton – and rugged and often uncooperative relief has held back the country from realising its full potential. Although it had managed to hold on to its HDI ranking, the going had become especially tough in the first few years of independence. And it is here that Fund Forum came into play.

The core initiative of the Fund is towards youth and social projects and actions, children's art, fashion and design, sports, holding festivals, exhibitions, concerts and charity events.

Led by diplomat and academician Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of President Islam Karimov, Fund Forum can be adjudged a curious mix of a non-governmental organisation and a civil society initiative. In fact, while talking to TSI, Karimova insists that it is an experiment in itself that combines the “Uzbek elements” with the classic, orthodox, Western definition of civil society.

A graduate of a Tashkent university, New York Fashion Institute of Technology and Harvard University, Karimova served as envoy and adviser for the Uzbek Embassy in Moscow for two years. She also served as an Ambassador in Spain and at the UNO Office in Geneva. It is her experience in world diplomacy and her personal contacts that drives Fund Forum. In fact, if ever an organisation epitomised its founder in the true sense, it is Fund Forum.

Most of the initiatives do have a social character. Started as a modest initiative to bring the art and culture of a nation repressed under Soviet rule to the world stage, it quickly expanded its reach in several sectors with miraculous results. Take for example Centre of National Arts and Tashkent House of Style. Not only has it helped the traditional artists and artisans to showcase and sell their products to international market, it has also provided opportunities for new talents to grow. Typical of the East, individual talents, especially those which are passed down generations in the same family, generally die with the sudden demise of an artist. The organisation has made sure that such rare talent is passed on to a substantial number of people so that it is never dead. "In one particular case, we meticulously worked for several months and revived an art of handmade silk fabric whose only expert had died years ago. Now the same fabric has been used to lay out a range of fashion products. Such small personal victories give me the passion to keep going," Gulnara quips.

Just last year, the organisation put up some 611 projects, 106 exhibitions, including 44 abroad, that were incorporated within the framework of international cultural projects. Apart from this, initiatives such as Art Week, the International Theatre Festival 'Theatre.UZ', the Tashkent International Film Forum Golden Guepard and a range of concerts featuring musicians from Russia, France, USA, Great Britain and Greece have helped put Tashkent on the international culture map. If one looks at what is happening in some of the neighbouring countries, the achievement in Tashkent suddenly looks spectacular.

However the biggest beneficiaries of its initiatives have been students at all levels. Grants and scholarships, mostly raised through private charities, have enabled a lot of these students to take up study and research projects abroad that would have been otherwise impossible.  

Lately, the organisation has also shifted its focus to the medical sector and initiated AIDS and breast cancer awareness programmes that have borne great results. An interesting initiative called 'A 1000 Weddings’ on the other hand has provided monetary and logistic support for 952 young couples to get married and for 1107 kids to celebrate traditional customs during the last year. For a population that spent years under cultural repression, these initiatives mean much more than we can guess. In the years to come, other nations in the region will definitely take a leaf out of the Uzbek experiences to launch something of their own. However, till then, Karimova will have to wage a lone battle for cultural revivalism.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017