Ten Years of Uzbekistan

Reviewed by Charles Hall
Art Review, London

We find our way into the book rather slowly. The first pages are all-but blank, dominated by rich colours (notably a beautiful, deep but somehow acidic purple), mottled and marbled with others, as if corroded or polluted, each page dominated by a broad, flat frame, which simply emphasises the emptiness of what is surrounded; it’s a little like being confronted with a precious silver photo-frame, still testifying to the preciousness of an image which has long since faded into blankness. Even the title, when we eventually reach it, is hard to read, printed in almost the same colour as the background, and partially obliterated by dark rectangles, like the stickers sometimes used by censors; we can just read the impression, coming through from the next page, of the ominous phrase ‘Here we die for it’. As yet, we have no way of making sense of what is, in fact, a sardonic Russian comment on the dangers of poetry.

… Often, in the book, the obscured head is printed with a biographical note, detailing the individual’s accomplishments and fate; sometimes the sense of loss is compounded by the blankness of the entry ‘Exact Fate Unknown’. Sometimes we begin to suspect that the same head has appeared more than once, with different names. Karimov’s blacked-out face creates a black hole so profound that we feel almost anything could be projected onto it, and this begins to emerge as the dominant theme of the whole publication – the one photo has appeared as a symbol of all that is good, and then becomes the repository (with equal lack of justice) of all that is unforgivable.