"What Happens When Ocean Eddies Hit a cliff?
The waves continue their attempts...
The stories collected by HW are a collection
of attempts to go against the current,
a whirlpool whose concentric movement allows the storyteller
to get a grip on herself and put words to who she is.
Sharing a story is a valuable tool for processing our own troubling experiences and helps us formulate evidence that we, as others, have faced similar challenges and survived."
THE EDDIES is a series of socio-cultural context analysis on the women artists' conditions in patriarchal societies. These interviews allow us to build up the most appropriate FESTIVAL FOR WOMEN, The Enclosed Garden, with workshops, and cultural events that will feed their needs.
In January 2022, we initiate this serie by posting the context analysis in Uzbekistan. It will be followed in Summer and Winter with others realised in Georgia and in Thailand.
Post written by Celia Stroom & Diane Barbé, Berlin, January 2022.
Analysing the possibilities, limitations and risks involved in producing The Enclosed Garden #4, festival of contemporary arts by and for women in 2022 or 2023 in Uzbekistan.
Ahead of the festival, we conduct a context analysis in order to begin building connections, to raise interest about the project, but also to apprehend the structural and emergent social landscapes that we operate in as a collective residency, as an activist network and as a public platform.
Assessing the possibilities and limitations of a city is a delicate research endeavour, requiring space for qualitative nuance and individual depth. It is key to provide an open space for exchange, as a lot of questions could be very intimate and dealt with topics often frowned upon, or even taboo in Uzbekistan; at the core, the human interaction was most important, as the conversations were precious moments of connection between the participants (respondent, researcher, and translator). A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted in Tashkent, Ferghana and Bukhara with women from different social, cultural and educational backgrounds. The meetings were majoritarily held in public spaces, where establishing a private safe space was not the easiest; but the choice of a venue like a cafe made it easier to arrange the interviews. The sample of 89 participants was based on direct recommendations, some were found on social media (Instagram, Telegram groups), and others were met in public spaces or in their workplace.
The strategy of HW, for this initial research phase, mixed methods from cultural management and anthropology. Using interviews, participant observation, photo and video elicitation, the researchers eventually create an assessment of the cultural landscape in the form of a SWOT analysis (focusing on Opportunities & Threats). The objective is not of course to evaluate the cultural landscape of female artists in Uzbekistan, which can neither be done in a month, nor can ever be undertaken by foreign researchers, but rather to assess how the structure of The Enclosed Garden festival could fit and bring growth here. It is crucial for us to think with researchers who question the production of hegemonic forms of knowledge by researchers from European contexts. We dedicate attention to non-conventional forms of knowledge, particularly oral knowledge and traditions, that have long been muted by cultural policies from the USSR, which were described for instance by Yuri Slezkine: "cultural imperialism was the highest form of socialism" (The Russian Review, 2002). It is also important to highlight the distinct cultural identities and the forms of resistance shown by non-Western women, in a genuine search for artistic formats that respect and uplifts the local context. As the researcher, Celia Stroom's notes from fieldwork in Uzbekistan read, interviewing must be accomplished as a way of caring for the other: '...And if taking Care of the Other was simply about to feel, every detail of the interview, a given act, be it a glance at another person, a shift in posture, or an hesitation, or silences. Such acts have no intrinsic meaning, they be can only be understood when taken in relation to one another'. Therefore, conclusions emerge not out of spoken, rather from the feeling of physical behaviour that often speaks louder than words.
When does one decide to lift the walls and share their true life story? What does it mean to receive these stories and welcome them as part of a great web of shared experiences? The process of fieldwork is entered with an open mind, devoid of hypotheses, accepting as well that we may have trouble communicating through an interpreter, and accepting that both sides do not know each other's implicit verbal and non-verbal languages. In only a few weeks, we try to see emerge a scope of possibilities and collaborations; but the main focus of this fieldwork was listening. Some women told us that no one had asked them about their lives before and that they suddenly felt they could exist by the simple act of talking and, above all, being listened to.
The research was run from Celia Stroom & Anna Frick (from Berlin) and translated/guided by Sitora Ismatova, Mariyam Muhammadovna Asadova, Maria Khudayberdieva, Madina Barnoyeva (from Tashkent & Bukhara).
89 women with various professional, social, ethnic, backgrounds:
- Employees of international institutions,
- Members of NGOs and cultural institutions like galleries and art schools,
- Independent artists,
- Survivors of domestic abuse sexual violence,
- Public activists & hidden members of the LGBTQI+ community
- Craftswomen and artisans
We also met few institutions to evaluate their interest for the project: Goethe Institut, French Embassy, UNODC, Suisse Cooperation, Ilkhom Theater, 139 Documentary Center, Sarpa Media, Bonum Factum Gallery, Nemolchi, MOC.
What does the landscape for art education and training look like currently in Uzbekistan?
What are the possibilities for showcasing works and producing exhibitions?
What is the role of official institutions vs. informal networks?
- Are there art residencies in Uzbekistan that provides a space, material and fees for the artists?
- Are there institutions that support experimental arts?
- What are the grants / funding programs for contemporary artists? What resources do you have access to?
- Can a woman develop an artistic career easily?
- Are women constitute as an active network of artists & cultural managers?
- Are there collectives of women artists in this city?
- Are women represented in the fields of contemporary arts in Uzbekistan such as video art, performing arts, contemporary music, sound design, multimedia arts, contemporary dance, photography, etc.
- Are there women cultural managers in Uzbekistan who would like to welcome the festival?
- As a woman, is it easy to become an artist in Uzbekistan?
- How do you perceive the condition of women in this society? Do you think of men and women as equal?
- Are artists free to speak about any kind of topics, like gender equality, discrimination, or climate change?
- What is your relationship to nature? How are ecology and environmental questions perceived?
- Are there any public or private institutions whose focus is ecology?
- What are the subjects that you enjoy or would enjoy exploring?
- Have you ever participated in an international training session?
- Have you exhibited with a collective of artists from different countries and cultures?
- How do you define your cultural identity?
> Strong interest expressed enthusiastically by all participants for the topics of the festival
> Some artists have expressed that they would feel ready and able to commit to the project
> Participants came from diverse artistic practices (graphic design, singer, dancer, actress, photographer, visual artists, curating, documentary director, textile artist, art critic).
> Artists are curious for new practices and rely on alternative education to learn new skills (online tutorials)
> Only three artists are working on ways to reconnect to rurality and the rituals connected to nature. Art is always an efficient way to reinvigorate new bonds among the countryside and the capital. This is one of the values of the festival.
> Diversity of religious identities seems generally non-conflictual and accepted by the women encountered
> Artists have expressed a desire to learn new techniques in performing arts, somatic practices, technics that empower the development of their individuation process.
> Several NGOs for women exist and with whom we could collaborate - like in The Enclosed Garden #3 in Thailand.
> Local cultural actors showed interest in a contemporary arts festival
> The intersection of ecology and women art has not yet been a topic of festival in Central Asia.
> The format of festival uplift the diversity of ethnic and national identities that become a source of inspiration and tolerance among the artists and the audience (it's what has happening in Georgia and in Thailand).
> Rising awareness about environmental issues and activism throughout panel discussion, art laboratory, exhibition, happening, online exhibition (scenarios proposed in the project description, on demand).
> A festival that could contribute to the maintenance of cultural and historical values by celebrating ancient rituals
> Craftswomanship and artisan practices are strong in fields like (singing practices, embroidery, tapestry), they will be explored in the art residency in an experimental way.
> This format of festival and multisensory / immersive labyrinth-like exhibition has never been made in Central Asia.
> A festival in performing arts, visual and multimedia arts about ecology has never been setup yet
> Several possibilities to find a venue for the festival and a residency space
> The festival could provide employment for a mid-size team of local collaborators
( ~ 15 women from Uzbekistan / 8 from abroad)
> The festival selects artists from different cultures, it means that russian speaking artists won't be the majority. A second research phase in April will go in regions to meet non established artists. In Thailand, we have travelled throughout the whole country to gather women from several ethnic backgrounds.
> Funding from EU institutions already given for the Phase 1 of the festival
> The other editions of the festival have been fully financed by European funds. The process of application starts on January 31rst.
> Gender equality culture and the empowerment of women is not yet celebrated, acknowledged or widespread
> A small percentage of Uzbek-speaking women become professional contemporary artists. The majority are Russian-speaking.
> Awareness of the contemporary challenge of individuation to go beyond "biological archetypes" is limited. (eg. harmful representations of the female body functioning, or superstitions about pregnancy, fertility, etc.
> Barriers for women to education in art fields & cultural management
> Lake of art projects that offers to women to create freely and be paid for this artistic commitment
> Societal pressure to fit within the normative role of "woman as wife", "woman as mother". Women are not encouraged to drive their life by themself outside of the family scheme..
> Environmental activism remains low and undervalued
> Sponsorship from public or private donors to contemporary art is rare
> Sponsorship from public or private donors to especially women artist is nonexistent
> Local actors like NGOs are often in vulnerable positions and lack resources
> Necessity to limit the scope of a festival based on governmental authorisations (inability to discuss certain topics e.g. individuation, equal possibilities for women, homosexuality)
> Conventional narratives about nationalism, traditions, patriarchy and (art) history still dominate
> Knowledge base about international art history, women in art history, art theories is limited
> Fear of some women to speak out about local cultural policies, domestic violence, abuses at work, pressure in their art practices
> Funding for women, art projects, festival, grants for artists is so far located mainly in EU and do not come from local sources
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