Seeing the Invisible: Documenting and Interpreting China’s Cultural Presence in Uzbekistan
By Alexey Ulko
The primary objective of this research is to document and research visual signs and symbols of the impact that China’s growing presence in Uzbekistan is making on its culture. We aim to collect photographic, video and documentary evidence of the same, to categorise and interpret it using a range of conceptual approaches from visual anthropology to object-oriented ontology. We will research the political and cultural relations between China and Uzbekistan, the politics and aesthetics of their visual representation through documentary photography and film and provide anthropological perspectives on this representation.
In Uzbekistan, the growing Chinese presence had been relatively low-profile and pragmatic. It can be broadly categorised as culturally and visually marked (e.g. the Confucius Institute, Chinese restaurants) and unmarked (Chinese investment projects). At the same time, there have been few, if any, noticeable cultural projects involving Chinese artists, curators, writers, musicians or photographers. The establishment of the Confucius Institute in Samarkand marked a shift from the earlier invisibility towards a more spectacular and confident Chinese cultural manifestation. We will compare this cultural development with the history of art, literature and music festivals held in Uzbekistan in the 1960s-90s in the context of non-alignment movement supported by the USSR.
As the Belt and Road Initiative seems to have regained momentum after the setback in 2018, it would be interesting to follow the dynamics of China’s visual presence in Uzbekistan in the coming years and reflect it in photographs, videos and texts.
Alexey Ulko, born in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) in 1969.