Way to Rome, by Said Atabekov, 2007. Lambda print on dibond. Uzbekistan.
CENTRAL ASIAN ART CURATOR
Every industry has its gatekeepers, and the art world is no exception. In the complex world of identifying and valuing cultural and artistic significance, it is the curator who filters through the ‘noise’ to uncover the hidden gems that are relevant, and then presents that information in a meaningful and understandable way.
One may wonder how a curator becomes such an authority, worthy of deciding what fine art demands to be seen, and what does not. The engaged art enthusiast simply must know: who are these internationally active contemporary art curators, and what can they teach us?
Art Radar Asia catches up with Rosa Maria Falvo, an independent Italian-Australian based curator whose most recent project was the East of Nowhere show in Turin, Italy, which showcased artworks from Central Asia. She sheds light on the intriguing world of multicultural curatorship, the rising international interest in artworks from the likes of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and, most importantly– why Central Asian art is emerging onto the world scene now.
Where did you grow up and where were you educated?
RMF: I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, graduating with Honours in English literature at Monash University, majoring in theatre, psychology and sociology, and then completing a Diploma of Education. I have done various post graduate studies in Italy on language, art and culture, specialising in photography, cinema, and the 20th century avant-gardes.
Has this had any influence on your career in art, or your response to art?
RMF: I enjoy investigating differences and then looking for natural similarities. In the last 5 years I’ve really focused my curatorial thinking on the East–West dichotomy.
My Italian-Australian heritage has nurtured my open appreciation and desire for aesthetic and cultural reference points. I feel very fortunate to have this twofold awareness, which has given me unique insights and provides the foundation for my work.
Since 2000 I’ve been involved in promoting individual artists, designing exhibitions and contributing to publishing projects. As an independent writer, translator and curator I’ve established a fruitful international network.
In which countries and cities do you spend most of your time?
RMF: With dual citizenship, I live and work in both Italy and Australia, and travel regularly to various parts of Asia.
I do overland trips for long periods, such as throughout Myanmar, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Tibet, Mongolia, and Western China, meeting artists and collecting their work. These journeys are both personal and professional odysseys.
I’m particularly interested in the rich aesthetic traditions and contemporary responses of non-Western realities, and I collaborate with local artists, curators, galleries, museums and academic institutions in Europe, Asia and Australia…
I am the Asia-Pacific Publications & Projects Consultant for SKIRA International Publishing in Milan-Paris-NY. This involves establishing publishing and exhibition projects with major public and private museums, galleries, and artists throughout the Asia-Pacific Region.
Which cultures do you have a deep interest in or connection to?
RMF: I am deeply connected to Italy and also feel an affinity for Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, particularly Pakistan and India, given the many friends I’ve made and the cultural treasures I’ve experienced.
Dream, by Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, 2003. Gouache on canvas 47 x 61cm
What types of art have you worked with in the past? Why those?
RMF: I’ve worked with Italian, Australian and Asian contemporary artists: sculptors, photographers, painters and designers.
I admire those who remain true to their own vision while mastering the technical excellence of their craft. How successfully they link the two is for me an indication of quality work, which is by definition powerful. Good artists are important cultural translators and visual conversationalists.
Do you collect art? If so, what is the most recent artwork you have bought?
RMF: I collect work on my travels, pieces that appeal to me aesthetically and intellectually. I take an interest in artists as people, and I like to know as much about their creative process and psychological view as possible.
The most recent works I have collected are by Adeel uz Zafar, a talented Pakistani painter and illustrator, working with notions of the larger-than-life canvas of life, and Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, an emerging Mongolian painter who reworks the traditional Mongol zurag technique into contemporary themes.
Have you noticed a rising interest in Central Asian art?
RMF: There’s a rising interest in Central Asian art, because there’s tremendous shifting in this part of the world’s geopolitical and cultural realities. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the ex-Soviet republics are pulling and pushing at an amazing speed.
There’s growing curiosity from those who know very little besides what is shown on TV and ever deepening analysis from those who have long been aware and well travelled.
The allure of ethnicity, exoticism and culture shock is often a visual pretext for the real essence of a show like this, which is to present an account of the changing face of contemporary Central Asia.
This international awareness is recent if you consider that the first Central Asia pavilion took place at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005, where newly established post-Soviet states Kazakhstan (with artists Khalfin, Maslov, Meldibekov, Menlibaeva, Tikhonova, Vorobyeva, Vorobyev), Kyrgyzstan (Boronilov, Djumaliev, Kasmalieva, Maskalev) and Uzbekistan (Akhunov, Atabekov, Nikolaev, and Tichina) represented a “regional group” curated by a Russian, Viktor Misiano. This heralded the development of the Central Asian art scene.
Emerging from a monolithic Soviet Union we see extraordinary complexity and fermentation on issues to do with struggle, conflict, and identity. That a place like Afghanistan nurtures its own contemporary art scene, however fledgling, is testimony to the unflagging spirit of special individuals dedicated to the arts. Rahraw Omarzad’s ‘Closed Door’ video provides a playfully eloquent metaphor for the obstacles facing ordinary Afghanis in the context of violence and corruption.
Have there been many Central Asian art shows, or was East of Nowhere introducing completely unseen art to Italy?
RMF: There have been few initiatives on Central Asian art outside Central Asia. ‘East of Nowhere’ was a natural and ambitious outgrowth of a previous premiere show entitled The Tamerlane Syndrome: Art and Conflicts in Central Asia in Orvieto, Italy (2005), curated by my expert colleagues, Enrico Mascelloni and Valeria Ibraeva, who each have 30 years of experience in this region of the world.
Men Praying on the Central Square in Bishkek, by Alimjan Jorobaev.
What kind of response did you get?
RMF: We’ve had very positive responses. This industrial area of Turin – Via Sansovino- is being redeveloped by Fondazione 107. Visitors have made a real effort to seek out this show and been impressed with the space, which is a beautifully reconverted warehouse. The variety of work and line up of both important and emerging artists has excited Italian and European media, which have been particularly complimentary; commenting on the panorama of talent and the contextual analysis of multiple narratives.
How do you personally measure the success of an exhibition?
RMF: I think a successful exhibition stimulates questions from those who were otherwise unaware of what is out there and raises the quality of debate amongst those who do.
Obviously, once there is growing public interest the art system brings the process of monetising art. Prices have certainly risen and it’s very interesting to watch what is happening in this part of the world.
What excites me is the open, honest and often young creative energy that has no direct dependence on a predetermined art market.
What themes do you see within Central Asian art, and why are they capturing the imagination of an Italian audience?
RMF: East of Nowhere offers a daring mix of impressions about a ‘Greater Central Asia’: accelerating globalization, contemporary nomadism, and pre-Soviet and Islamic traditions.
These 32 artists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia take us beyond borders (which are not just arbitrarily reshaped, but often draw a blank in the minds of Westerns), violence, and Hollywood, into a new awareness of post-Soviet experience and ethnic affinities.
Said Atabekov’s Way to Rome, which is the cover image of our exhibition catalogue, recalls Marco Polo’s journey through Central Asia as the epitome of East-West encounters. For this photographic series Atabekov travelled throughout Kazakhstan, capturing daily life and landscapes, documenting the emblems of tradition and transformation. Of course, his work is also an ironic play on the ‘Path to Europe 2009-2011’ announced by Nursultan Nazarbayev in his presidential address to the people of Kazakhstan in 2008, which outlines his foreign policy for developing multilateral strategic cooperation with Europe in technology, power engineering, transport, trade, and investment. This promotion of Kazakh ‘prosperity’ highlights the paradoxical relations between Central Asia and Europe.
Alimjan Jorobaev’s Men Praying on the Central Square in Bishkek shows people praying with their backs to a sculpture exalting Lenin. Issues on collectivism, religion, identity politics, and nationhood are universal concerns, but they are in particularly sharp focus in this region of the world. I’m pleased to say that Fondazione 107 in Turin will continue to present projects based on the legacy of pioneering artists, curators, and collectors.
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