A Jewel in the Crown – Andakulova Gallery Dubai

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(By Dr Shahid Qureshi – Chief Editor) : –

Gulf home of Central Asian art Andakulova Gallery, Dubai, is a contemporary art gallery whose objective is to promote Central Asia’s contemporary visual arts. It serves as a platform to exhibit and support emerging to mid-market contemporary artists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (or the ‘Stans’) across a variety of media, with a special focus on Uzbekistan. Founded by Natalya Andakulova, its higher goal is to cultivate a dialogue between Central Asia and the Middle East by re-introducing the art of the ‘Stans’ to the artistic hub of Dubai.

It wants to build relationships between artists, writers, specialists and collectors. With a loyal and growing client base, the gallery, located at P4, Damac Park Tower, is at four years old, among the names to reckon with in the UAE art scene. Since its inauguration at the hands of Sheikh Butti Bin Suhail Al Maktoum, it has conducted a bushelful of programmes, including educational outreach, in-house lectures, film screenings, residencies, art classes – and conducted systematic sales.

“Andakulova Gallery is the first professional art gallery outside Central Asia in the Middle East which represents Central Asian art”, said Irina Bourmistrova-Phillips, gallery curator. “This is very important since there are other galleries in the world which showcase Central Asian art. But there is no gallery like this in the region. It is the flagship which breaks the ice for others to follow”. In the first few years, it focused mainly on Uzbekistan, since its owner hails from there. This year, it turns to other ‘Stans’, to show a whole range of contemporary art practices from Central Asia.

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Educational programmes at the gallery discuss various aspects of Islamic art. Film screenings (the latest one is on the Nukus Museum of Art, Uzbekistan, a collaboration with Alserkal Avenue), art residencies when Central Asian artists are invited by the gallery to stay in the UAE for a month (their works are exhibited later in prestigious art spaces), participation in art fairs like Art 14, London (2014), World Art, Dubai (2014, 2015) and Tashkent Biennial 2016, where the works of 15 Emirati artists were exhibited, are counted by it as among its highlights. The gallery also sponsored the production of art works at Tashkent. It took part in the Kazakhstan conference on the art market in 2016, where it discussed the development of Central Asian art in the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi, it participated and exhibited in the community 2 section of Abu Dhabi Art in 2015.

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The gallery has also showed its works at the landmark Etihad Towers in the national capital. “We work with local businesses, develop their art base, invite people to display Central Asian art in their offices and also educate local public about the importance and role of Central Asian art in the region”, said Andakulova. “We work closely with local with local collectors, advising, cataloguing and organising their collections.

We want to help set up enduring ties between the Middle East and Central Asia. It will be the coming together of the Silk Road and the Pearl Coast!” The gallery has participated, with the co-operation of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) at Art Night in 2016 and has hosted a Collectors’ Dinner at the Ritz Carlton, Dubai. It is now looking forward to the all-woman exhibition taking place next month. Both established and emerging artists are encouraged by it and the Uzbek and Kazakh Embassies are on board its activities. Its opening was at the Baku Restaurant, Knightsbridge, London, during Frieze 2012.

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“We work with international global auction houses”, said Bourmistrova-Phillips. “They include Arabian Wings (Saudi Arabia), Artsy, the New York based global online platform and Artscoops, London. You can consider us a Gulf based, Central Asia focused, global art gallery”. Silk, scholars, scientists and steppes Central Asia, with its grasslands or steppes, is the core region of the Asian continent and stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. In modern contexts, all definitions of Central Asia include the five republics of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Central Asia has historically been closely tied to the Silk Road. As a result, it has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, the Middle East, South and East Asia. Since the earliest times, Central Asia has been a link between different civilizations. The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India and China.

Renowned and revered scholars, poets, 3 travellers and scientists, have either been born or have studied in Central Asia. For example, three collectors of the Six Authentic Hadith Books (the collection of Ahadith or sayings and traditions of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH) were born in Central Asia. Imam Bukhari, the collector of ‘Sahih Bukhari’, was born in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Al-Nasa’i, who collected ‘Sunnan Al-Nasai’, was born in Nasa, in present day Nisa, Turkmenistan. Al-Tirmidhi, who collected ‘Jami Al-Tirmidhi’, was born in Tirmidh, Uzbekistan. Among the world-famous polymaths with a Central Asian lineage are Omar Khayyam and Al-Farabi. Khayyam was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet, widely considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. He wrote numerous treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy and astronomy. Born in Nishapur, in north-eastern Persia (Iran), at a young age he moved to Samarkand and obtained his education there. Afterwards, he moved to Bukhara and became established as one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the Islamic Golden Age. He has impacted literature and societies through the translation of his works and popularisation by other scholars.

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The greatest such effect was in English-speaking countries. The most influential was Edward Fitzgerald, who made Khayyam famous in the West through his translation and adaptations of Khayyam’s quatrains in the ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’. Al-Farabi, known in the West as ‘Alpharabius’, was a renowned philosopher and jurist, who wrote in the fields of political philosophy, metaphysics, ethics and logic. He was also a scientist, cosmologist, mathematician and music scholar. In Arabic philosophical tradition, he is known with the honorific “the Second Master”, after Aristotle. He is credited with preserving the original Greek texts during the Middle Ages because of his commentaries and treatises, and influencing many prominent philosophers, like Avicenna and Maimonides. His birthplace is Farab on the Syr Daryain Kazakhstan, now known as Otrar. Central Asia has had old and deep links with the Middle East.

To get a glimpse of this, one has to only go to Mleiha, the archaeological site 20 kilometres south of Al Dhaid city, Sharjah, and 50 kilometres east of Sharjah city, in the geographical centre of Sharjah emirate. Excavations there unearthed a hybrid camel – a cross between the Bactrian camel of Central Asia and the dromedary (Arabian camel) of South Arabia. 4 The Bactrian camel has two humps and the Arabian camel has one hump; the hybrid too has one hump. According to a panel text at the Mleiha archaeological centre, the hybrid camel was/is stronger than the Arabian camel and faster than the Bactrian camel. It was imported late pre-Islamic era into South Arabia – so the links between Arabia and Central Asia pre-date Islam.

The bones of the hybrid camel, according to the panel, are stronger than the dromedary’s and longer than the Bactrian’s. According to Wikipedia, the hybrid camel can carry around 400 to 450 kilograms (880 to 990 pounds), which is more load capacity than either of the dromedary or the Bactrian camel. Thus, if the Silk Road may be described as “the bridge between Eastern and Western cultures”, then the Bactrian camel should rightfully be considered the principal means of locomotion across that bridge. A famous Arab traveller to Central Asia was Ahmad Ibn Fadlan.

He was sent as ambassador by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir, to the ruler of the Bulgars on the middle Volga River in 921 CE. His route went from Baghdad via Bukhara. He wrote a valuable story of his journey, outstanding in detail because he possessed extraordinary powers of observation. The account is often best known for it is rather lurid but crucial description of a Viking (Rus) funeral on the Volga; this served as the inspiration for ‘Eaters of the Dead’, the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton.

Views expressed are not of The London Post

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