Highs and Lows in Tajikistan

Lolisanam Ulugova

Lola Ulugova (Lolisanam) founded and directed Tajik Bio-Cultural Initiatives, a NGO dedicated to Tajik arts and environmental issues. In 2013, she wrote and produced the nation’s first 3D animation film, designed to promote awareness of environmental issues among children. Previously, she produced several cultural DVDs archiving Tajik dance and biocultural diversity; was a Field Production Manager on the documentary Buzkashi! By Najeeb Mirza (Canada); from 1999-2005 was the manager of Gurminj Museumin Dushanbe, an important museum of musical instruments; has been involved in the administration of multiple government and NGO research projects and publications in Tajikistan; and has been the organizer of several major art exhibitions. She holds a Masters degree from the University of Turin, Italy and an undergraduate degree in Russian Language and Literature. She has been Arts and Culture Program Coordinator at Open Society Institute (OSIAF) Tajikistan since 2014. She co-produced “After the Curtain” along with Emelie Mahdavian (USA).  

doi: 10.18278/aia.2.2.9

Tajikistan is a beautiful country with glaciers, mountains, unspoiled nature, vineyards, and apricot orchards. Local people revere national traditions, which they pass on to younger generations. Before the October 1917 Russian Revolution, modern Tajikistan did not exist, having been a remote part of the Bukhara Emirate. After 1917, the Soviets cultivated the Soviet Tajiks, developed their taste for Western culture and arts, and created an intelligentsia. Nowadays, Tajiks have a few theaters, concert halls, and tiny conventional arts galleries.

Tajiks love dancing, playing musical instruments, and performing with friends and family. However, most do not consider these talents to be serious skills because they do not value artistic practices as vehicles for development. Culturally, this is a norm. Moreover, it is common that girls can learn dance up to 10-12 years old but not older. To have a female professional dancer in respected families is a curse equal to housing a prostitute at home. When boys learn dance, especially when they become professional dancers, they are labelled as gay, which is a socially maligned group.

Most Tajiks do not like challenging their tastes; most of them do not understand contemporary art nor do they have a desire to grasp its meaning.  What is beautiful, proper, and good for Tajiks: going to pop concerts rather than opera, ballet, or drama. They watch light concerts or other type of musical performances on TV rather than live concerts of classical Shashmakom or traditional Falak music. Theaters, museums, opera, and ballet used to be prestigious because they propagated Soviet ideological culture. Since the end of the Soviet era, some say that Tajik culture has become “‘lower”’ while others claim that we are finding our own roots and preferences that suffered under the Soviet-imposed changes to Tajik traditional culture.

Tajik state government has a heavy burden, since almost all art institutions depend on its funding. From one perspective, it is appropriate for the state government to take control of the situation and watch over repertoires, programs, and similar creative choices. On the other hand, it is only due to governmental support that many cultural institutions survive that would otherwise disappear as a consequence of lack of artistic imagination, bravery, and entrepreneurial skills. So, the government imposes its own values on Tajik people via television and state-sponsored arts. However, due to globalization there is also a tendency for underground cultures such as hip-hop, jazz, fusion, and other types of arts to emerge as well. Ultimately, to declare what is high and what is low in Tajik culture depends very much on where one stands.