Sufi Parable and the Contemporary Art
Djamal Usmanov’s project “The Valley of Knowledge’’ was awarded the special prize of the Foundation ‘’Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan’’ that together with the Academy of Arts of the RUz supported the National Festival of Fine Arts of the country in November 2004.
The God shows Himself only to the extent In which the searcher is able to endure His aureole
Hiraz (1, p. 32 – 34).
Every nation keeps in the inmost recesses of its spiritual heritage and culture its understanding of the ideals, hopes, the highest values and the “Golden Age”. For centuries these myths and archetypes have been interwoven with the folklore structure, then revealed in the creations of poets and folk tales narrators, reflected in the arts displaying the facet of sometime ago grand mythological ’picture of the world’ that does not disappear from the “cultural memory” but at some specific periods speaks for itself more decently and always anew.
In 1990, when our society activated its interest towards traditional ideals, philosophical and religious fundamentals of the Uzbek culture, one could be witnessing the whole unique layer starting its original embodiment in the creative works of the artists.
Strive for heritage sources in Djamol Usmanov’s works was prompted by the interestedness in Sufi Philosophy. He perceived its fundamentals by studying works of the medieval poets of the East such as imam al-Gazali, Attara, Navoi and Rummy. Works of the Sufi-poets in Usmanov’s perception present an amazing alloy of religious ideas, Philosophy and subtle poetry. Through them the author discovered in his creative consciousness the possibilities to express mystical ideas and undercover thoughts.
Initially Dj. Usmanov depicted personification of the divine source and manifestation of its highest power through nature. “Like in mystical poetry it bears the most important semantic meaning, but its meaning in the artist’s pictures becomes even more significant due to its poetical, purely lyrical intonation filled with the emotional revelations”, remarks N. Akhmedova (2, p. 150). The series of the artist’s works “Loneliness Valley”, “Contemplation Valley”, “Cognition Valley” and “Sweethearts” are dominated by the bird’s image – symbol of the Sufi soul according to the Muslim poetical tradition. The interest Dj. Usmanov started displaying towards Alisher Navoi’s poetry has been later on developed in his new works. A.Navoi’s poem “Lisonut-tair” (“Language of Birds”) (3, p. 401 – 402) served the basis for his new pictures filled with the complicated religious and poetical symbolism. It is based on one of the most famous Sufi parables telling about thirty birds symbolizing the mankind.
They undertake the spiritual trip in search of the God. Seven valleys of Action, Love, Cognition, Indifference, Unanimity, Confusion and Renunciation are the metaphors of the Cognition steps and spiritual purification. The birds should overcome them on the road that they could not have found when they started their search in the Valley of Searches. However when they understood that they had made a mistake, they started looking for the clue to all mysteries and world secrets in the Valley of Love, which they thought to be their end target. But at the end of the Road they understood that the clue to the world secrets is neither in the process of Searching nor in Love, it is in the Cognition of the Truth. Dj. Usmanov has symbolically implemented this legend in seven pictures.
In the end of the 90th, Dj. Usmanov began to develop his ideas in the forms of the contemporary art, or in the actual art. As has been marked by N. Akhmedova, the researcher of post modernism in the contemporary art of Central Asia, the artist’s searches were connected with the original synthesis of post modernism principles with the philosophic and poetic trends of Islam. Transition from the traditional fine art (easel) picture to the conceptual experience was for the first time revealed in the artist’s project called “On the Way to Spirit Cognition” (2001). It was the first experience of large project (environment) in Uzbekistan that has included fine art, installation, assemblage and spatial objects. Dj. Usmanov made the installation in the hall: alive, tender and juicy grass, autumn leaves are next to it, then follow coal and ash that in the mind of the artist should reveal the ideas of the cyclic world, human life and nature. Then he produced the projects “Mirage” and “Thirst” (2001), which showed the definite exit of the artist beyond the traditional art’s forms, and started his transition to bold ideas in installations, environments reflecting the search of the expressive forms of mystical and mystery most adequate for Sufi philosophy.
Being more and more absorbed by these ideas Dj. Usmanov understood that it was not enough to create a separate object, it is important to achieve synthesis of plastic forms, music and light to help the disclosure of covert symbolism, and create the atmosphere of submersion into the mystery of cognition of the existence essence. The artist has successfully realized these ideas and principles in the spatial-and-visual project called “Cognition Valley” presented at the national festival of fine arts of the republic in 2004.
...A small black enclosed place lit with the blinking light in the huge Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of arts of the RUz caused enormous interest of the public. There are strange figures of the blinds inside. Their postures express surprise, disappointment; each of them seems to feel fear, rapture, non-understanding, astonishment and terror. The project is based on the parable heard by the birds in the “Cognition Valley” (from A.Navoi’s poem “Language of Birds”. Thus, through the new forms the artist continues development of the ideas that have been absorbing him before.
According to the parable, one of those who were meeting the blinds returning home from India asked them, ‘‘if you have seen the elephant, and if you have done it, tell us what does the animal really look like’’. The paradox of the question and its sense is in the fact how could the blinds have seen the elephant? Each of them has touched the parts of this big animal. The blind man that touched the feet of the elephant compared the animal with a pillar (with a column or a pole), and the one who touched the elephant’s belly liken him to the Behiustun rock. The blind man that touched the trunk noticed that it bore the similarity with the dragoon; it seemed to the one that was lucky to pat his tusks that the animal consisted of two bones only. The blind man that felt the tail compared him with the snake. And another one who managed to touch the head of the animal likened him to the top of the mountain. The blind man that was touching the elephant’s ears compared them with two large fans fluttering in the wind.
Every blind person had his own opinion about the elephant; each opinion was correct enough but it did not give the general idea of the animal.
The wise philosopher who knew elephants well enough and came from India himself listened to the blinds and did not blame them. He understood that they have known only those things that their blindness allowed them. Therefore, the philosopher approved everything said by the blinds without any hesitation.
With the help of the new forms Dj. Usmanov has convincingly showed the feel of touch sharpened with the blind people but also their touch of mystery, spatial and timely length of the process. It was difficult for the artist to depict such a feeling in his easel painting. He depicted it in the installation, but went farther on in his search. Usmanov continued the idea of synthesis of the forms by creating the composition that allows submersion into a special space and atmosphere of secrets and mystics. The spectator who suddenly found himself in the darkness among the blind people dawned upon with the light of cognition, shall be plunged in thoughts following the idea of the artist that anything in the world is related, and the blind people serve the metaphor of such recognition.
By tuning to the parable the artist seems to relate its essence to spiritual searches in the complicated reality of the existing world. Many ideas of the parable are eternal and universal. Like in the earlier times a human strives to reject the limitations of the ideas in the search of understandings of the genuine Truth. Without pausing on his interestedness in the decorative elegance of the heritage, Dj. Usmanov managed to find vivifying sources in the tradition that proved to be modern and lead to progressive spiritual searches. And new conceptual ideas allow their new comprehending, understanding and transferring in a form congenial to a contemporary man.
...Coming out of the black square, the spectator gets charged with the additional energy of search, ponders of the sense of living, understanding of the trueness and non-existence of anything happening in the world. Due to the original project of Dj. Usmanov this far away parable became concordant to the feelings of the human of the early 21st century, when somewhat earlier eternal and unshakable values turned out to become relative and losing their sense. Dj. Usmanov’s creative work presents meditations on all these things and much more else ...