Natalya Andakulova is not your average entrepreneur. She is an art lover on a mission to promote artists from her home country and its neighbours. She helps people with talent become discovered, as she believes that talent should be shared.
She has also found a way to promote her artists without being pushy or “sales-like”. Instead, Natalya casually invites the artists to visit the UAE and present their work to the hungry audience. This humane approach is very admirable. When the artists aren’t around, the artwork speaks for itself.
Natalya’s baby, Andakulova Gallery, is a contemporary art gallery from Central Asia with a focus on Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. A compact gallery founded in 2012 and tucked in DIFC in the heart of Dubai, the boutique gallery size reflects the “Andakulova” ethos: modesty and talent.
I sat down with Natalya in the Gallery for a cup of coffee and a quick chat on Central Asian Artists, her experience in the UAE and the future.
(Deep in conversation with Natalya, photo by Andakulova Gallery)
How do you choose which artwork to exhibit in the Gallery?
Natalya (N): We have a curator that helps me, but it is important for me to like the pieces of art.
We rigorously go through the portfolio of the artists and look at some of the criteria which is important to art collectors, such as where the artist studied, where they previous exhibited their work, etc. We also like to showcase upcoming and young emerging artists.
Talent is important in the art and architecture fields, but education is also important when portraying your work properly.
In your opinion, what is the relation between storytelling and art?
N: There is definitely a strong relation. I am always explaining the stories behind these artwork. History is all about stories, and history and art always go together.
(History and Art always go together, photo by Wrichitects)
Tell us a story set in Uzbekistan.
N: We had an exhibition for one of the artists, Max Penson, to mark 100 years since the revolution took place in the Soviet era. Max Penson was living in Belarus, then moved to Uzbekistan. At that time, most of the intelligent artists, photographers and creatives liked to visit Uzbekistan, just like how people in Europe like to visit Italy (for the warmer climate, the colors, the smells, the sun, and the sky). Those talented individuals founded the Uzbek Avant-Garde, which took place at the same time as all the other international art movements. Artists predicted this movement before the revolution occured.
Open mindedness, talent sharing, and experimentalism were some of their attributes. Javlon Umarbekov was inspired by Alexander Volkov, who was inspired by Cubism first before he was interested in icons and miniature art.
What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve experienced in an art gallery?
N: We were working on a short-notice photography exhibition for an important client, and we received the photographs the day before the opening. Instead of receiving the actual size of the photographs, we received miniature versions! We asked them to reprint it, but of course, we ended up working all night to make sure that the exhibition took place properly. We finished an hour before the exhibition opened. Thankfully it worked out perfectly in the end.
This is your gallery’s fifth year in Dubai. Do you feel that your Gallery helped change the way that the audience sees art from central Asia, and helped them understand more about the region through the artwork?
N: Collectors like to know more about the artists and their inspiration before they purchase their artwork. They are also interested in the history of the country, so I make sure to always tell these stories to the audience.. cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara, etc. have existed for more than 2,500 years. The color,culture, traditions, fabrics, etc. are deeply rooted in the history. Most of the artists show this history in their artwork.
During the soviet time, an invisible iron wall existed. People could not travel easily. Some of them couldn’t speak english properly. Central Asian art was not discovered world wide. This is one of the reasons why our art (USD 10,000 price range) is priced differently than other places, which also provides an easy investment for art collectors, and everyday people. We are not only targeting the “Elites”.
Artists don’t really talk about the business behind the art, and the collectors don't like to talk about prices, so this is a good balance and a good opportunity for both artists and collectors. For example, Javlon Umarbekov is 72 years old. He exhibited internationally and has pieces in museums. His artwork is priced for USD 6,000 on average, which is relatively very affordable. This is one of the benefits of what we are doing; we are truly helping the artists and the collectors alike.
How important is the relation between the artist and the art collector?
N: The collectors like to meet the artists, talk to them, interact with them. Some of the collectors like the pieces but do not understand the piece (such as a triangle in a composition). “What does it mean?” they ask. It is a privilege to have the artists present to explain. The art sells. The artists that visit Dubai also had different opinions of the city, which changed when they arrived as they were very inspired in return.
Were you always interested in Art Curation?
N: Actually, I initially studied Physics and IT, then i discovered that it is not my passion. I discovered my interest in Art and studied Art Business Access at Christie’s in London. Currently, I am pursuing a Bachelor in Art History, Criticism and Conservation from St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting Sculpture, and Architecture. We are even learning a lot about architecture, starting from the early history of Architecture onwards.
The students are always asked, “Why do we need to learn about architecture as art historians?”
N: It is essential, just as essential as it is to read the Bible which has many references to basilicas and early architecture. Architecture, history, art, archaeology, artisans.. They are all interrelated.
What is your favorite building, or style of Architecture?
N: I was born in Samarkand, so I will be bias and say that my favorite building is the Registan Samarkand. I also like the Hagia-Sophia in Istanbul. And now the Louvre, which is a very impressive building, not only from an art museum perspective. Many museums are designed in a way where the building itself is also very interesting, making the architecture seem like art pieces.
As for style, I would say Gothic Architecture.
Who is the strongest Central Asian contemporary artist?
N: Almagul Menlibayeva, who is a contemporary artist that specializes in fine art, photography and video. Also, Said Atabekov, Bakhodir Jalal, etc.
We love that you chose a woman artist as one of your favorite.
N: Yes! We have also created an event in the past which exhibited artwork for female-only artists from Central Asia.
Do you have future plans to create a program for people from Central Asia who reside in the UAE, who want to work in the Art/ Photography fields?
N: Together with Art Hub Abu Dhabi, we organized a residency for artists where we took six participants to all the major “art hubs” in the UAE, which inspired them to create their artwork.
We welcome interns from various universities to learn more about art by working at our Gallery. We also donate our space for various educational lectures and workshops, such as the art masterclasses provided on Saturdays (for students aged 8 years and older). One of the lectures provided was on Islamic Art, and was given by Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis, a specialist from the Sharjah Museums Department, on Islamic Art.
We usually apply for various Art fairs, such as Dubai Art and Abu Dhabi Art fair. We are doing more in the community, not just exhibiting art pieces, which we aim to continue in the future.
What are you excited/ looking forward to in 2018?
N: The fact that we have the Louvre in the UAE is exciting - it is living proof that art is growing. The UAE is like an ecosystem.. Abu dhabi has the museums, Dubai has the galleries and Sharjah has the Biennale. Art is a difficult business where the strongest survive, but I am very positive for 2018 as we have very strong artists that we look forward to presenting. I love seeing the reaction of the audience and this year won't be any different.
I am also co-writing the first book called “A Line to Eternity”, a monograph about Bakhodir Jalal, to be published by Albert Skira Publishing House and launched in Art Dubai this March. We are going to also invite Bakhodir for the book launch.
(Bakhodir Jalal, Faces of Jayhun, 2016, photo by Andakulova Gallery)
What advice would you give aspiring art curators to succeed in their future?
N: All issues can be solved. One of the exhibitions that we organized and curated took place in an outdoor unlit venue, so we ordered lights. Unfortunately, the original light supplier had an accident, so the only available options were multicolored pink, blue, and green lights, which drastically changed the artwork. Luckily, the guests didn't notice this issue, and we sold two pieces that night!
FEATURED ARTIST: Javlon Umarbekov
Andakulova Gallery serves as a timeline to Javlon’s artistic life, where each wall showcases a different period in his life - a different time of inspiration for Javlon.
(Javlon Umarbekov, Coming of Dawn, 2008, photo by Wrichitects)
(Javlon Umarbekov, Carts and Yurts, 2007, photo by Wrichitects)
(Javlon Umarbekov, Endowments, 2000, photo by Wrichitects)
(Javlon Umarbekov, Geometric Shapes, 2009, photo by Wrichitects)
(Javlon Umarbekov, Guitar, 2007, photo by Wrichitects)
(Javlon Umarbekov, Day and Night, 2007, photo by Wrichitects)
(Javlon Umarbekov, Spring, 2017, photo by Wrichitects)
(Javlon Umarbekov, Melon Bazaar in Bukhara, 1997, photo by Wrichitects)
(Natalya in a Javlon corner, photo by Wrichitects)