Olim Kalimov is one of the few miniaturist painters in Tajikistan. Demonstrating his own specific comprehension of Persian miniature classical art, Kamalov’s works encapsulate his knowledge of tradition, as seen in his use of colour and his fine brushwork. The inimitable beauty of the miniature comes from the refined lines, the brilliance and genteless of the colours and a complex yet harmonies arrangement of detail.

OCA MAGAZINE: Please tell us briefly about your background, where you were born and raised?

OLIM KALIMOV: I was born and grew up in Dushanbe. My father, Azam Kamalov was a composer and orchestra conductor, and my mother, Fotima worked at a bookstore. My father died when I was eleven-years-old, and I was brought up by my mother afterwards.

OCA: Who or what inspired you to become an artist?

O.K: As a child I loved painting, so my father sent me to an art school for children, where I studied for three years. After finishing high school, I was admitted to M. Olimov State Art College in Dushanbe. My instructors were great masters such as G. Kuzmin, Z. Turdyeva and B. Alabergenov. After graduation, I found a job as an artist at the Armugon Factory. There, under the instruction of Klara Son, I learnt the basics of Palekh miniature, which is a Russian folk handicraft of miniature painting. This art is a little bit similar to the art of Persian miniature painting, but has its own nuances and secrets. This was perhaps the turning point when I started my explorations of the Persian miniature. Kamaliddin Behzod, the founder of the Persian miniature, has become one of the most influential historical figures in miniature art for me. 

OCA: Your current medium is miniature art, but what other areas did you try before settling on this?

O.K: I studied the usual basics of oil painting, graphic design, drawing etc. in college. Also, I have done portraits in the more conventional style of oil painting. Wood carving has been an interest for me as well, but the more I learnt about the miniature art genre, the more I was attracted to its exquisite technique. My first miniature art works were ceramic plates. I’ve tried to improve with every work I’ve done, and even in the 1990s during the civil war, I didn’t stop, although I had to combine traditional Persian miniatures with the production of souvenir art in order to have a smoother transition to the market economy. 

OCA: What are the key themes and aspects you like to explore in your work? 

O.K: I’ve read many books by classic miniature authors, examined illustrations, learnt a lot and I think I’ve achieved the nuts and bolts of Bekhzod epoch’s miniature painting. Most poems of the classic poets, such as Rudaki, Firdausi, Nizomi and Khayam are presented in the works of the miniature artists of the early centuries. Classic literature inspires me to find artistic ideas. When I read poems and stories, I find myself imagining a countless number of illustrations. Through miniature art we can find out more, not only about culture, but also about the history of the nation, history of its dress, etc. I’d like to continue the themes of the great classics in my works. However, I’ve also developed my own style by travelling to the countries where this genre was born and learning the specifics of contemporary artists. I’ve been exploring the combination of modernity and ancient art in my works. This can be manifested in small details or larger conceptual themes incorporating the whole work. My works can be of a very large size, which is unusual for miniature art, but they always include very fine details. Sometimes, my ideas come from the everyday lives of our people, sometimes from trips, sometimes from celebrations. Life itself gives me ideas for my work.

OCA : How do you manage to paint such small works of art with such detail?

O.K: The word ‘miniature’ implies the subtlety of brush and fineness of detail, which I implement in my work. This type of art takes a long time to create. I often wake up early in the morning, around 6am, and work until late at night. If there is no need to interrupt my work – quite often there is, though – time flies. As time has passed, I’ve started using optical glasses because of the tiny detail in miniature art, which attracted me to it in the first place. Sometimes, a large magnifying glass helps to paint even finer details. 

OCA : Can you explain one of your favourite pieces of art; how was it done, the style, story and inspiration?

O.K: All of my works are dear to me, but my favourite ones are the themes I portrayed in Ropewalker – inspired by my childhood observations of street circuses – King Chooses Horses – which received second place at the International Miniature Art Festival in Algeria – and Favourite Falcon – one of my first works, which I painted on the door of an old wardrobe. In the 1990s, it was difficult to obtain a canvas, but now this work is central to my collection. Finally, my most favourite work is Racing. Here I used most of my skills and depicted a hundred figures on a small space. This composition consists of several levels. On the first level, people are jubilant and play wind instruments, and on the second level camels are led by riders. The third level consists of racing horses, whilst on the fourth there’s a historical city with towers and men dressed in long robes – joma, yakatak – watching the racing. Finally, on the fifth level, there is a boy who left his bicycle and climbed up a tree to watch the games. These kind of events are still held on the Nowruz holiday and people still dress in similar clothes. The mix of modernity and ancient traditions, rituals and everyday life is key in most of my current works. I’m attracted by such ideas as well as the entire process of painting. 

OCA : What is your current or next project you’re working on? 

O.K: I work for Adib Publishing House and illustrate on a regular basis for many of its writers and poets. At the same time, I simultaneously work on my own projects. For example, at the moment I’m painting a medium-sized miniature inspired by Firdausi’s stories. Moreover, I help my daughter, Bonu to develop her skill in miniature art by giving her advanced lessons. Her artistic talent has become obvious since her childhood and it’s with great pleasure that I see her following in my footsteps with this style. 

OCA : Few people will have heard of world famous artists from Tajikistan – why do you think that is and how can more be done to promote magnificent works of art like yours to a wider audience?

O.K: I didn’t know about this until I had to become acquainted with the market economy and the change of state ideology in the 1990s. An artist often needs managers, producers and sponsors who can help to introduce his/her works to a wider audience. However, in Tajikistan such managers and producers are rare, as people are still adjusting to the new system. Most art connoisseurs who can afford to buy art are foreign guests. There are exceptions, though, such as the fortunate appreciation of art by the Tajikistan Hotel, which has acquired works of mine for six floors of its building. Apart from that, my family and I have founded the Mino Art Centre – part of the UNESCO club now – which has various projects for schoolchildren to teach them art and to present their art to foreign countries as an outreach programme. This will hopefully promote the genre to future generations, as well as to a wider audience. I’ve also had chances to participate in international miniature art festivals in North Africa, an international child art festival in the United States (together with my students) and master classes around Central Asia. This gave us an opportunity not only to present our art and culture abroad, but also to learn about the history and culture of other people, as well as to communicate with other artists. 

OCA : Given modern technology can now replicate many things, including minute details, why do you think there is still a place in the world for art like yours?

O.K: Of course, today’s technology is rapidly moving forwards and one can create the tiniest details of artwork using software without dirtying one’s hands. But how much can one appreciate art if it is available on a screen with a single click? When you create with your own mind and hands and present a part of your soul to the audience it emanates a certain energy that you can see only in an original work. Perhaps, that is why artists, sometimes including myself, don’t want to bid farewell to their works. By the way, technology is by no means the wrong way to create art. As long as your mind, ideas and energy are in it, it should be considered a work of art no matter how it is created.

OCA : Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

O.K: My wife, Sarvinoz Hodjieva and I have had groups of students within whom we have fostered the love of art and led them in the direction of miniature painting, because we would like this to develop in our country. We try to connect them with the past and want to revive Persian miniature art in Tajikistan. Over the last two and a half years, thanks to the support of OSI Soros, we have taught ten orphans from School-Orphanage No.4 in Dushanbe. Their interest in art led two of them to successfully graduate from M. Olimov State Art College in Dushanbe and one entered the Moscow Art Institute. Apart from the specific group from the orphanage, after many years of teaching other students, we are starting to reap the fruits of our efforts: some of our students now study at art colleges and universities abroad. I hope they will persist with their studies and remember the foundations of miniature art. Also, the Tajik Institute of Art and Design graphics department decided to implement miniature courses in its curriculum, thus I teach lessons there as well. In addition, the M. Olimov State Art College has started to accept applications for miniature painting this year. I do hope that the Tajik miniature will grow and flourish. I think that hard work and love of art can make miracles. If you have a seed, you need to plant and water it, and then it will bloom and bear fruit.