On the 4th September the Savitsky Museum will be celebrating the centenary of the birth of Igor Savitsky, a Ukrainian artist who in his younger years assembled a major collection of Qaraqalpaq embroideries and yurt decorations and went on to rescue a vast number of threatened avant-garde paintings from the Soviet authorities. The museum that he founded – the Qaraqalpaq State Museum of Art – is one of the highlights of a visit to Qaraqalpaqstan in far western Uzbekistan. Foreign ambassadors, museum supporters and local dignitaries have been invited to the Museum’s centenary celebrations.
It was therefore something of a bombshell to receive news last Monday that Marinika Babanazarova, the Director of the Savitsky Museum, had been summarily sacked. The granddaughter of the first President of Qaraqalpaqstan, Marinika had been personally chosen by Savitsky to be his successor. For the past 35 years she has devoted her life to promoting, developing and defending the museum. However, as the international fame of the museum increased, intense jealousies were fired among the museum establishment in Tashkent.
It is hard to understand the murky world of Uzbek politics, but it appears that someone in authority has decided to kick her out. Museum auditors were dispatched from Tashkent to check the Savitsky art collection for fakes using an ultraviolet light. They decided that some were forgeries and Marinika has been accused of selling the originals, using the Friends of Nukus Museum to take them out of the country. The whole scam would be laughable, were it not so tragic. As we know from many past visits, security at the museum is intense, with pairs of Uzbek policemen guarding every entrance, curators placing seals on every door at closure, and the director having no direct access to the collection herself. The accusations are despicable. Marinika is a woman of the utmost integrity.
For the past week we have been sending information to the BBC, Channel 4, the Guardian, the UK ambassador in Uzbekistan, the US and other European embassies in the UK and many other contacts with an interest in Central Asia and its textiles. You can read some of the responses on the following webpages:
David and Sue Richardson
Monday 31 August 2015