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“The Queer Element in the Aesthetics of the Pre-Raphaelites of Samarkand.” A lecture by Boris Chukhovich

Public program for the exhibition "We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams." The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969
30 January 2020


The talk will look at the group of Russian artists who worked in Samarkand in the 1920s, including Alexei Isupov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, and Daniil Stepanov among others. Boris Chukhovich will review the group’s aesthetic program and analyze the key themes and recurrent motifs in their work.

From 1920 to 1924, a group of artists gathered in the Samarkand garden of Daniil Stepanov, a painter who is barely remembered today. Apart from the garden’s owner, the group included Alexei Isupov, Aleksandr Nikolayev (Usto Mumin) and from 1923 Nikolay Mamontov and Viktor Ufimtsev. In 1921, they were joined for several months by Alexander Samokhvalov and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. Although they never identified as a group and left no manifestoes, the similarities in their works allow us to speak of a common aesthetic ground that related the group to the nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Inspired, like the Pre-Raphaelites, by the imagery and techniques of the Quattrocento, Stepanov’s circle mixed them with motifs from Persian miniature and Russian icon-making traditions.

In his articles published before the talk, Boris Chukhovich has focused on the aesthetic aspects of the group’s work: the evolution of each of the artists and their mutual influences. But in addition to stylistic similarities, the group shared an interest in similar subjects and narratives. One common theme in their work are the single and double portraits of the boys and young men of Samarkand—vendors, teahouse waiters, musicians and bacha bāzī—young male dancers. One obvious explanation for that is that in a Muslim culture, where women were largely hidden from view, male portraits were simply easier to produce. However, there were other reasons that attracted Stepanov’s circle to the choice of feminine young men as their models.



Boris Chukhovich (b. 1962, Tashkent) is a historian specializing in the art and architecture of Central Asia, an independent curator, an associated researcher at the University of Montreal, and president of the Observatory of Central Asian Cultural Heritage Alerte Héritage. Until 1998 he worked at the Art History Research Institute in Tashkent. Since his immigration to Canada he has worked for various universities in Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto. He was an invited researcher at Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (Paris) and has curated exhibitions of Central Asian art in Montreal, Ottawa, Venice, Bishkek, and Almaty. He has written extensively on the art and architecture of Central Asia in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He lives and works in Montreal.


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