In 2009, prosecutors in Uzbekistan filed a criminal case against renowned photographer Umida Akhmedova for a series of images they said were an “affront to the Uzbek people.”
Earlier this week, an exhibition of Akhmedova’s work, titled “Peaceful Sky,” opened at Tashkent’s Zero Line gallery, marked the first time in a decade that the photographer’s images have been shown in public in Uzbekistan.
The exhibition is modest, comprising 15 photos and three video art installations, but the precedent is significant.
“People are sick of prohibitions, of police, of inspections, and of images of kittens and countryside. People want to see reality,” the photographer told EurasiaNet.org.
Akhmedova said the title of the exhibition — “Смирное небо,” a slight and untranslatable play on the Russian words “У нас мирное небо” (We have a peaceful sky) — was inspired by the skies of Uzbekistan.
“We often say: ‘We have a peaceful sky.’ So ‘peaceful sky’ is our collective name. Everybody can take it to mean what they want. I think this is a very poetic name,” she was cited as saying by Gazeta.uz.
Akhmedova is Uzbekistan’s best known photographer, although she started out as a cinema camerawoman after graduating from VGIK film school in Moscow.
The idea to hold the exhibition came from Zero Line gallery founder Bella Sabirova.
“The works by Umida that have been presented at the exhibition are the ones she considers her best. They are the choice of the artist,” Sabirova told EurasiaNet.org.
Akhmedova’s most discussed work was done in the 2007 collection titled “Women and Men: From Dawn Till Dusk.” The series comprised 110 photos that showed a variety of aspects of Uzbek life in a stylized hue whose reality discomfited authorities at the time. That and a follow-up work, the 2008 documentary film “The Burden of Virginity,” which depicted the rituals that take place on the morning after the wedding night, such as the hanging out of bloody sheets for all to see as proof of the bride’s chastity, earned her the unwelcome attention of prosecutors.
Amid much international clamor, she was amnestied in February 2010.
More work is expected.
Akhmedova’s partner, Oleg Karpov, told EurasiaNet.org that in January they wrapped on another film, “To Live and Die in Samarkand,” about the rich historic confluence of cultures in that famed Uzbek city.
“We hope to subject it to the judgement of the general public soon,” said Karpov.
Akhmedova’s last exhibition in Uzbekistan took place in the city of Ferghana in 2008 and her work has also been shown in Denmark, Russia and Georgia over the years. In 2016, she was one of three joint recipients of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation’s Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.