Zukhra / Stains of Oxus

    27/05  | 20:30
    28/05  | 19:00

€ 8 / € 6
Zukhra, 32 min - Stains of Oxus, 25 min
Zukhra : Uzbek > FR/NL - Stains of Oxus : Shugnani, Khwarezmi, Karakalpak > FR/NL

The cinema of Saodat Ismailova – born in 1981 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan – brings to surface Central Asia’s soul, by creating modern myths that continuously reflect the recent past of the region. The festival presents her work for the first time in Brussels, in a singular diptych. In Uzbek, Zukhra is the planet Venus, the morning star that appears in the twilight. In Zukhra we follow a young woman sleeping, while hearing the sound of her heart beating, her dreams, even her memories. We can come to know her by the sounds of her past. Stains of Oxus evokes an oneiric journey through the greatest Central Asian river, Amu Dariya – known in Greek times as Oxus, portraying the transformation of landscape and witnessing people who inhabit its riverbanks, beginning from the high plateau of Tajikistan to the lowland deserts in Uzbekistan where the river finds its end in the Aral Sea. A collection of dreams that is by local tradition shared with flowing water, and practiced as a first morning ritual, is now captured and revealed on the screen.

A meeting with Saodat Ismailova will take place on May 28th at the end of the projection.

Zukhra (2013)
Directed by: Saodat Ismailova
Editing and sound: Saodat Ismailova
Photography: Carlos Casas
Zukhra: Dildora Pirmapasova
Surtitling: Marie Trincaretto  

Stains of Oxus (2016)
Directed by: Saodat Ismailova
Editing and image: Saodat Ismailova, Carlos Casas
Surtitling: Marie Trincaretto  

Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, BOZAR
Production: Map Productions
Zukhra: produced by the Central Asian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale
Stains of Oxus: produced by Le Fresnoy, National School of Contemporary Art, France

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Twisting and curving as water

“Dreams are a very important fabric of the Central Asian soul, they are a bridge to the past and to the future, and they contain a key to understanding who we are and where we are going, that is why I work on the idea of reproducing dreams, using sound, recreating those whispers that are the memory of my grandmother and possibly of all women.” Saodat Ismailova

Precisely at the mid-point of Stains of Oxus (2016-19) appears a wooden bridge. The water is moving slowly, very slowly, rather as if there were streams flowing at different speeds. First horizontal, then vertical, as if from a spring, then in different directions on three screens, finally horizontal again, without further reference to the landscape, entirely abstract. Playing in the background at different levels are voices and music.

Stains of Oxus is an installaton consisting of three screens, each time presented in a different way depending on the conditions of the space housing it. For Kunstenfestivaldesarts it has been re-edited and shown as a film.

Saodat Ismailova’s body of work is extremely intricate. Dreams, memories, rites, tongues, sleep, lethargy and death thicken and then dissolve, as if in rhythm with a mysterious shared breathing, ever-changing among film, shorts, installation and performance. Her shows are staged based on compositions of screens, as if providing temporary shelters, physically dividing the space with other viewers in a gentle, but unavoidable physical proximity.

So the bridge sequence in Stains of Oxus could be the long tail to Zukhra (2013), the first work by Saodat Ismailova not conceived for the movie theatre. A sleeping girl, lying on a bed, is filmed from in front. Towards the end, on the wall behind her shoulders, appear scarcely legible images which slowly dissolve into each other, like photographs and ghosts of past time. This is the link: the water flowing in the river, in Stains of Oxus, is the wall on which memories, or perhaps dreams, melt into each other. Sharing dreams in the water of the river is a recollection from Saodat Ismailova’s childhood, a tradition in Central Asia. The journey of the Amu-Darya/Oxus river across different territories and countries every day, is doubtless the bed carrying the imagination of an entire people. And both Zukhra and Stains of Oxus are the artist’s personal collections: an imaginary journey through the dream of a girl, for an indefinitely open time (does she sleep? The light is constantly changing, perhaps she is hypnotised, or in lethargy?), a real journey undertake by the artist along a river, from its source to its mouth, in the daily rites and imagination of a people. In their dialogue, between an interior open to the past, and a landscape flowing along its course, the two works share a concern for the dream, which forms a delicate but foundational presence. Zukhra is a collection of sound sources of various kinds, voices, both adults and a little girl, radio broadcasts, a barking dog, cawing rooks and poignant judgements (a male voice recites “Lenin never came to Turkestan; he didn’t know our languages, traditions, habits, never saw our sky, never heard our songs…”). Music, gentle but always present, now rises, now falls, inhabiting the work like the sound track of a horror film, reaching a crescendo for a finale in which the protagonist’s body disappears, leaving space in the darkness of the sky, illuminated by a single burning star. The sound is thus handled in an unusual and particular way, generating the main question of the work: where does this happen, this path through time, and which we can define as “the film”? Is it taking place “inside” the outstretched girl, at her shoulders, on the wall, outside the room – in a city, or in a territory? Has it happened, or is it indeed happening now?

Similarly, the Oxus river is a long, out-stretched body: the sounds and lives which pass through it – a fisherman, a shepherd, a little girl, a sleeping man, a tiger – resonate as ancient but also present, making the work as much an unusual document as a composition.

In her research into the depths of the history, languages and worlds of Central Asia, Saodat Ismailova composes works from which emerges, for enigmatic reasons, and notwithstanding what appears on the screen, never a solo figure, but rather a chorus. In fact, as she gives shape to an unusual portrait in interiors, and to a landscape which is only apparently peaceful, Saodat Ismailova seems to suggest that being observers means necessarily to be part of an organism and a body. Projection is not a mechanical act, but a form of knowledge. And every action cannot but be choral and shared, otherwise lethargy comes.

Andrea Lissoni

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Saodat Ismailova (Tashkent, Uzbekistan), based between Paris and Tashkent, is among the most internationally accomplished represen-tatives of a generation of artists from Central Asia who came of age in the post-Soviet era and have established cosmopolitan artistic lives, while remaining deeply engaged with their native region as a source of creative inspiration. Her debut feature film 40 Days of Silence, a poignant depiction of four generations of Tajik women living in the complete absence of men, was nominated for best debut film at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival, and thereafter was screened in festivals all over the world. Her first installation Zukhra was featured in the Central Asian Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. In April 2019 Qo’rg’on Chiroq – a survey presenting all her gallery-related works as well as her most recent researches – has inaugurated the new Contemporary Art Center in Tashkent.

Andrea Lissoni, PhD, is Senior Curator, Inter-national Art (Film) at Tate Modern, London. Formerly curator at HangarBicocca, Milan, the co-founder of the independent artistic network Xing and co-director of the international festival Netmage in Bologna, in 2012 he co-founded Vdrome, an online screening programme for artists and filmmakers, which he co-curates since then. At Tate Modern he launched a yearly Cinema Programme conceived as an exhibition unfolding throughout the year, he co-curated the display and the live programme at the opening of the new building in 2016, the 2017 and 2018 Live Exhibition, the 2016 Turbine Hall Commission by Philippe Parreno and the expanded exhibition Joan Jonas (2018). He is the co-curator of the Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement The Sound of Screens imploding, Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, 2018-2019.

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