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The Politics of Artistic Production in Early Soviet Uzbekistan 
Mollie Arbuthnot (University of Cambridge)
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Mollie Arbuthnot (University of Cambridge)
Snezhana Atanova (Nazarbayev University Constructor University)
Cultural Studies, Art History & Fine Art
306 (Floor 3)
Saturday 8 June, -
Time zone: Asia/Almaty


This panel examines the practices and discourses of artistic production in Soviet Uzbekistan, covering visual art, architecture, and photography. The turbulent political landscape from the 1920s to the 1940s both enabled experimentation in artistic production and introduced unprecedentedly high political stakes to questions of representation, “national” cultural heritage, and identity. Soviet institutions were often (but not exclusively) dominated by Russo-European experts, meaning that, paradoxically, the search for usable pasts and attempts to define “national forms” were often led by non-Uzbek actors. But processes of Sovietisation were not straightforward and solely top-down but were debated and ongoing for several decades, and in some cases strongly relied on the knowledge and participation of local experts, who contributed to both discourses and practices in ways that sometimes radically differed from their non-local counterparts.

The contested processes of producing new visual and material codes for Soviet Uzbekistan bridged institutions and spheres that are often considered to be separate—as seen in Pronina’s work on the intersection of architecture and heritage preservation—and were constructed and deconstructed in the public sphere, as Dennett’s work on photographic propaganda and censorship reveals. While all these efforts to create new identities and materialities aimed at the building of socialism—a future-oriented project occurring in the present—they simultaneously strongly engaged with histories of the region, creating overlaps between the work of architects, photographers, propagandists, ethnographers, journalists, Orientalists, painters, museologists, and bureaucrats. A common thread connecting all four papers is therefore the multiple ways that the politics of artistic production in this period attempted to grapple with the legacies of the past.

Lastly, as Klimenko’s work details, many prominent figures connected to artistic spheres in the first half of the twentieth century published autobiographies in the later decades of the Soviet Union. These autobiographies present distinct narratives through a multiplicity of individual lives across shifting official publication practices and add another layer to our discussion of historicising practices, showing how the past was once again utilized within the frame of memoir-writing. Through considering varying figures, institutions, and fields involved in artistic and political activities in Uzbekistan in the early Soviet period, this panel sheds light on the intricacies and entanglements of these processes and their surrounding discourses, complicating straightforward historical narratives of the period.

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Saturday 8 June, 2024, -