Wood-Carving in the Art of the People's Master Abdugani Abdullaev

Traditions of art crafts in Uzbekistan are constantly developing, and their progress reflects changes that take place in the society. And the art of wood-carving is no exception. Today this kind of art is filled with new content. Great experts work in this domain of art, preserving the experience of the past and bringing innovations into their work. Among these recognized masters is usto Abdugani Abdullaev, the representative of the Kokand school of wood-carving, whose works are known both in the country and abroad. He has mastered to perfection many different wood-carving techniques, including a very complex one of three-dimensional architectural compositions called mukarnaskori that is used to decorate columns and cornices, as well as the technique of deep carving with multi-plane relief. Over the past decade he created original items of monumental carving, which earned him the honorary title of the People’s Master of Uzbekistan. He is a true usto — in the East this name is given to a master famous for his art, whose coaching is sought and whose opinion counts. Abdullaev successfully cooperates with artist and architects, which helps him make his every creation a unique and memorable piece. From year to year the interest towards his art is growing, as is the number of his fans. Journalists and art historians write about him, and young people learn from him, partaking from his experience and mastery.

The master’s art reached its heyday after Uzbekistan had attained independence — that time was marked by substantial changes in cultural and art life of the country. Following the initiative and under the guidance of Islam Karimov, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, many customs and traditions have been restored and monuments and memorial architectural complexes built to commemorate undeservedly forgotten and repressed sons of Uzbek people. New streets, park areas, hotels and palaces have appeared, and private housing development has intensified with the active involvement of artists, designers, landscape designers and applied artists. People created amazingly wholesome and unique architectural complexes and ensembles that harmoniously combine the art of an architect, an artist, a designer and a craftsman, thus reflecting the spirit of new time and the way it has changed. Traditional art of wood-carving has also become in demand again, which is proven by the creative search and achievements of Abdugani Abdullaev. During those years he participated in giving the finishing touch to the most significant pieces of work that reflect the new and ongoing processes. These include the Square of Memory and Honour (Tashkent), the Museum built in the memory of oppression victims (Tashkent), the Museum of Burkhaniddin Marginani (Margilan), and the number of other structures.

The Museum built in the memory of oppression victims

In 1998 in Khartang village of Chelek District (Samarqand Region), to mark the 1225th anniversary of a great theologian Imam Mukhammad ibn Ismail Al-Bukhari, a magnificent architectural memorial was built. The decorative design was wrought by the members of «Usto» creative union, gypsum-carvers from Samarqand led by usto Saidali Mirzaev, master of wood-carving Jalaliddin Asadov, majolica tiles master Madaminjon Khusanov from Namangan, wall-painting masters from Tashkent, and carvers from Kokand. All woodwork was performed under the guidance of Abdullaev. The team he led also included apprentices D. Ochilov, E. Kuchkarov, R. Mamatkulov, D. Jamshidov, J. Abdullaev, J. Isamiddinov, A. Khudoinazarov, and A. Parpiev. In total they have worked over one thousand cubic meters of wood, including parts of the aivan (terrace) for which they produced 75 carved columns with stalactite capitals and 35 doors. Ceiling decoration was also performed, including the separation of the ceiling space into plafonds, which were decorated using small semi-cylinder planks (vassa, vassa-juft) and cavities in the shape of small stalactite domes (khauzak).

The latter technique, namely the khauzak ceiling domes, was employed by Abdullaev for the first time after many years of its oblivion. This type of ceiling decoration was widely used in Uzbek architecture in late 19th and early 20th centuries: in the palace of ruler Khudoyarkhan in Kokand, in Balakhauz Mosque in Bukhara, and in the former house of diplomat Polovtsev (now the building of the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art in Tashkent). In the Imam Al-Bukhari complex the planked ceilings are divided into separate plafonds, eight of which are decorated with concave stalactite domes. This structural-decorative device has become a prominent ornamentation of the parade aivans. Stellar stalactites give the domes a peculiar effect of the vault of heaven.

Ceiling was painted by nakkosh ornamental painters from Tashkent; they highlighted the dynamic play of the beam and vassa lines and emphasized the sculpture of the domes, giving them festive look. The carved columns with stalactite capitals and the cornices were left unpainted, retaining the natural colour of wood. As a result, the colouring combines the natural texture of the material and multicoloured ceiling painting. The rich play of light and shade becomes the primary expressive means here. Depending on the light and weather, contemplation of the complex creates different moods and emotions. Wide, spacious courtyard with shrubs not only highlights the peculiar spatial solution of the object, but also influences the environment.

The Museum built in the memory of oppression victims

To perpetuate the memory of our fellow countrymen who perished in the World War II, and as a token of respect for the war veterans, the Square of Memory and Honour was created on the main square of Tashkent as a memorial-architectural complex. Its construction was preceded by a competitive selection of the best project among the architects. The competition was won by an architect from the Tashkent town-planning institute V. Akopjanyan; sketched created by master Abdullaev were chosen for the artistic ornamentation. The basis of the composition is constituted by the traditional style aivans (terraces) positioned on the northern and southern sides of the square, which are 60 meters long. The complex consists of 32 aivans, and two of such terraces are dedicated to each province of Uzbekistan and the Republic of Karakalpakstan. The walls of each terrace have special recesses called tokcha (niche) with an Iron Book, in which the names of the fallen heroes are written. To decorate the aivans the master used painting, but in the ceiling recesses, for the first time, he decided to go for carved ornamentation that prevails in the decoration of the complex. Carving also adorns the columns, and, notably, the lower section of the columns is decorated with finer designs, whereas the upper sections feature larger patterns. These patterns look differently each time, depending on the light.

Non-standard approach was also used in the ornamentation of the Burkhaniddin Marginani complex in Margilan and the Museum built in the memory of oppression victims in Tashkent. For instance, in the Burkhaniddin Marginani complex built on an artificial platform in the form of a round pavilion called kushk, the master for the first time created a huge sub-dome stalactite wooden cornice sharafa that rests on tall carved columns also with stalactite capitals. As for the Museum built in the memory of oppression victims, which is part of a memorial complex «Shakhidlar khotirasi maidoni», the master supervised all design and construction work related to plank/timber materials. Abdugani Abdullaev created here a four-sided colonnade gallery with a portal-like elevation at the centre — kaivan and two-tier cornice. The aivan of the Museum is performed in classical traditions of oriental architecture. This is one of the finest works of the master and his apprentices. Assistants and apprentices of the master — R. Mamatkulov, A. Khudoinazarov, J. Abdullaev (his son), Z. Ergashev, A. Turdiev and others (about 30 people altogether) — when performing wood-carving work, demonstrated great skill, vivid imagination, and refined sense of material and form.

A not less important contribution to the creation of the expressive image of this memorial complex was given by the talent of decorative-applied arts masters, artists, sculptors and landscape designers from the «Usto» creative union led by the Academician of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, People’s Master Abdurakhim Umarov. Their joint effort provided basis for the synthesis of arts when the Museum complex was created. In his structure and design solution for the aivan of the building Abdullaev resorted to his past experience, namely the technique of dividing the ceiling into separate caissons with ornamental recessed stalactite domes in key places: above the doorways and at the corners where the galleries joined. The d?cor and ornamentation have maximized the potential of the wood-carving art. All architectural details of the avian, such as beams, cornices, columns and stalactite capitals are covered with carved designs in which the expressive means is the light and shade. The rhythm of different parts of the structure, the different shapes, scale and proportions of the columns, capitals and cornices enhance the expressivity of the Museum appearance.

The Museum built in the memory of oppression victims. Fragment

The challenging task of building an integral complex could be achieved only by a skilled team. Eight carved stalactite capitals of the aivan columns, the aivan beams and entablature, panels and cornices decorated with vegetable and geometric designs were created by the master’s apprentices. More than 5,000 semi-cylindrical planks, vassa, with carved design that decorate the aivan ceiling were wrought by the Tashkent masters led by S. Rakhmatullaev, and the carved doors of the Museum were created by masters from Tashkent and Samarqand. The main expressivity accent is placed on the aivan and kaivan ornamentation.

Today, wood-carving, which is one of the most ancient kinds of applied art in the country, is receiving a new content and seeing new directions of development. The lead masters, while retaining the best achievement of the past in their art, enrich it with new experience. Experts such as N. Ibragimov, O. Faizullaev, S. Rakhmatullaev, H. Ganiev, H. Odilov, A. Azlarov and many others bring new content into the art of wood-carving, new elements of sculpture and decoration, non-traditional compositional solutions and shapes. The art career of the Kokand master Abdugani Abdullaev is a vivid example of this. The power and welfare of the nation, the greatness of the people, their talent and aesthetic treatment of reality are reflected in the finest works of usto. Having thoroughly studied the experience of his predecessors and enriching it with new approaches, motifs and ideas, Abdugani Abdullaev is bringing people joy and inspiration by reflecting in his art not only the national ideal, but also people’s confidence about the future.

Nargiza Talipova