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A few words about contemporary Uzbek photography. Part VII. Mothers and daughters-in-law

Written by on Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Culture and History, Uzbekistan
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Today I would like to present an interesting photo project by one of the leading contemporary photographers from Uzbekistan, Umida Akhmedova, who became well-known internationally as a victim of stupid legal charges against her photography and video, apparently insulting the mentality of the Uzbek nation.

Those who are interested in the details may read about it here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/feb/11/uzbekistan-umida-akhmedova-slander and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umida_Akhmedova. It should be noticed that since that time the article about slander and defamation has been reportedly removed from the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan.

The project focuses on the life of two women: a young wife and her mother-in-law. It all started when Umida’s friend from Russia looked at the portraits of two women on a bright background and asked: ‘They are rich, aren’t they?’

Dearest dream and clan

The photos show women from ordinary Uzbek families only a short time after a wedding. To hold a wedding party is one of the most important events in the life of a family, which Uzbeks call orzu havas – the dearest dream, which must come true by all means. It is the Purpose of Life. In order to organise a wedding ceremony, young men often leave their home and travel as migrant workers to earn money sufficient for a large ceremony for a huge number of relations and friends. In Uzbek culture this is an obligatory and extremely expensive event. The illusion of wealth is a must.

The bride is often selected by the mother from her social group or relatives. Despite the incessant doctors’ propaganda, marriages between relatives are still widely spread among Uzbeks. It is fairly common to see cousins in the role of husband and wife. Young people get an offer, they meet and have a talk and may even reject the offer. Yet this does not change the principle of selection! A young husband becomes a member of a large clan of relatives and shares with it his own responsibility for his family: it is only one of the cells of this large clan.

In the Soviet time there was a popular comedy play and a film called Brides’ Revolt, where a large family of many married sons is governed by their Mother, who rules her family as the Head of the State!

When a girl moves to her husband’s home, she almost completely severs any links with her parents and the triangle Girl – Her mother – Husband, so familiar to Russians, is replaced by the triangle Girl – Husband – His mother. This becomes the fundamental structural element of the whole society and honestly speaking, it does not evoke any positive sentiments!

Freud and tradition

So, there are two women: one is a young wife and the other is mother, mature and experienced! There is also a veil of traditional mentality and rituals, the exterior.

Then they have to live together. Two women, ‘sharing’ one and the same man! The relations within a family depend on the man to a great extent, but he is not always strong, especially when everything has been decided for him!

In full compliance with the psychoanalytic dogmas, mother first brings up her son based on her own ideas of an ideal man and thus forces upon him a range of psychological complexes. Then she also selects a girl for him – her own reflection. The young man is strongly dependent on his mother’s will.

A father of three children was asked in a court: ‘Why are you seeking divorce?’

‘My mother didn’t like her.’

At that moment Umida Akhmedova recollects Hitchcock’s Psycho or Jodorovsky’s Sacred Blood, where the voice of mother’s ghost commands: ‘Kill her!’ That’s the subconscious for you! Masked by the veil of mentality and rituals…

It is not given that the mother-in-law always dominates. She is getting older and the young wife is growing more mature. An allusion to Chekhov comes to mind: in the contest between the wife and the mother-in-law, the more intelligent and delicate one is more vulnerable! In theory, of course, the women find a common language and the family’s life goes on smoothly and quietly.

‘But that’s just in theory! What anxiety I experienced taking photos of these women!’ says Umida.

When the veil is taken off, where will human relationships take them to? Who will be the strongest one? What will their life be like?

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