International art lovers attending the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale were in for a treat. For the very first time in the history of this prestigious festival, Uzbekistan had a national pavilion, situated within the Arsenale. Titled “Mahalla: Urban Rural Living”, this 1:1 scale model of a house in a traditional Uzbek mahalla (neighbourhood) was curated by Emanuel Christ and Christoph Gantenbein, Professors at the Swiss Technical School in Zurich and founders of renowned the Christ & Gantenbein architecture practice. Their structures blended with photography by the Dutch artist Bas Princen, and an original soundscape by sound producer Carlos Casas, who recreated the noises of the mahalla. “Mahalla is a social, cultural and urban phenomenon,” explained Christ, “[and it’s an] indication to where a global contemporary society could find a vision, information, inspiration.”

Uzbekistan’s presence in Venice is indicative of the country’s growing interest and investment in the contemporary arts. The pavilion is one of a number of activities led by the Arts and Culture Development Foundation (ACDF) under the Ministry of Culture, which is exploring new areas of art and cultural development, forging ties with international institutions, and promoting the culture of Uzbekistan on the world stage. Uzbekistan has always been a fertile ground for creativity, but now artists of all kinds are being supported to push their work to new levels, and to find the audiences they deserve.

One of ACDF’s strengths is in its ability to build relationships with high profile international partners. ACDF has formed a new partnership with Scala, the UK-based arts and heritage publishers, whose meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated books highlight the art and artefacts of the world’s greatest artists, museums, and galleries. Five Scala publishing projects for Uzbekistan area now underway, including The Lands of Central Asia by Professor Edvard Vasilievich Rtveladze, the chief archaeologist at Alexandria on the Oxus (formerly known as Kampir Tepe); and Savitsky Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art, a lavish coffee table book dedicated to Uzbekistan’s most important modern art collection, authored by the museum’s director, Tigran Mkrtychev.

The renovation and modernisation of Uzbekistan’s national collections is a high priority for ACDF. Some of the most exciting developments include the creation of a Centre for Contemporary Arts in Tashkent, which opened in 2019 with an exhibition called Qo‘rg‘on Chiroq, featuring the work of Uzbek video artist Saodat Ismailova; the expansion of the State Children’s Library to a design by Russia’s Ludi Architects Bureau; and the renovation of the Residence of Prince Romanov, which will become a branch of the State Museum of Art.

What art and architecture aficionados are most impatient for, however, is the reopening of the State Museum of Art. The original building – a striking example of Brutalist architecture – was built in 1974, but is now doubling in size to become the pre-eminent art museum in Central Asia. The Pritzker Prize winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando has envisaged an extraordinary complex which incorporates more than 7,000 square metres of exhibition space, storage for 100,000 exhibits, and a new city park. Together, this will be a cultural focal point for the city, revitalising urban life in this part of the capital. Construction work is underway, and it is hoped that the museum and its surrounding facilities will reopen to the public in 2022.

Gayane Umerova
Secretary General of the National Commission
of Uzbekistan on UNESCO Affairs
Executive Director / Art and Culture Development Foundation under the Ministry
of Culture of the Republic of Uzbekistan