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Masterpieces. Banned. Hidden.; Art documentary comes to Tajikistan

I found these paintings, rolled up under the beds of old widows, buried in family trash.
These were forbidden works by artists who stayed true to their vision, at a terrible cost
– “The Desert of Forbidden Art

A piece of documentary art, about forbidden art, has come to Central Asia – again.

The 80-minute long documentary of Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev (writers, producers and directors), “The Desert of Forbidden Art”, was screened on Friday December 9th, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. at the BACTRIA Cultural Center (ak. Rajabovih 15 Street) in Tajikistan’s capital city Dusanbe.

The Desert of Forbidden Art”, a documentary that “takes us on a dramatic journey of sacrifice for the sake of creative freedom”, narrates how Russian artist Igor Savitsky– the virtuoso man of paint, archeology and collection, particularly of avant-garde art – rescued the forbidden work of fellow artists. Savitsky founded the State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, an art museum based in Nukus, Uzbekistan (capital city of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, in northwest Uzbekistan). The museum opened in 1966 and hosts 82,000 items – comprising the world’s second largest Russian avant-garde collection (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg).

In their invitation to the Tajik screening event, Silk Road Media explaines the documentary to be:

“…about a museum in the parched hinterland of Central Asia that contained the world’s largest collection of Russian avant-garde art during the time of the Soviet Union.”

Silk Road Media continues:

“The idea of the film is to show the story of how a person’s life turned out to be the preservation of a whole epoch of art, which would otherwise have been lost for evermore because of Soviet repression.”

Karakalpak Museum of Arts: Home of the Savitsky Collection explains the “Forbidden” nature of the museum’s art:

“…the Museum’s collection of Russian avant garde is the only one that was initially condemned officially by the Soviet Union and, at the same time, financed partly by it, albeit unwittingly. Evidently, Nukus’ status as a ‘closed’ city and, especially, Savitsky’s good relations with the Karakalpak regional authorities enabled this to happen.”

This December 2011 Tajik screening of “The Desert of Forbidden Art” is not the first time for the documentary to be seen in the region. On November 18th, 2011 the film came to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s University of Central Asia (138 Toktogul Street). The university shares a synopsis of the film:

“The incredible story of how a treasure trove of banned Soviet art worth millions of dollars is stashed in a far-off desert in Uzbekistan that develops into a larger exploration of how art survives in times of oppression…”

In August 2010, EurasiaNet.org reported on the documentary hitting the silver screen – making mention of how Savitsky challenged authority and refused to let censored art lay in shadows, hidden from the world:

“Thanks to Nukus’ remoteness from Moscow politics and local officials’ ignorance of art, Savitsky collected some 40,000 paintings by Soviet artists banned for ideological reasons, artists who refused to paint propaganda in a social realist style.”

First screened in 2010, “The Desert of Forbidden Art” received various awards, and media publicity via Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Variety, Le Figaro, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and more.

In covering the story of this museum, The New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer said in the documentary’s trailer:

It didn’t take me more than a few minutes of walking around this museum for my jaw to drop. I realized that this was going to be an exciting story – there were going to be a lot of people chocking on their English muffins over breakfast on Sunday when they read this one.”

And, indeed, Kinzer’s predictions of this brilliant museum and these resilient pieces leaving an exciting impression – were right.

Here’s what some prominent publications have to say about the documentary “The Desert of Forbidden Art” - a work of art, that’s prominently about once-censored works of art:

A must see…” – San Francisco Weekly

“…enlightening film.” – Chicago Sun-Times

Reveals one of the greatest secrets of modern art. A gem.” – The Vancouver Sun

A dramatic examination of the power of art against forces of repressive tyranny.” – Film Threat

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