Babanazarova is widely known in the museum world; she is known and loved in her homeland. It seems that a whole universe is in the eyes of this amazingly sensitive and, at the same time, strong woman. Marinika Maratovna has a great career, she achieved highest awards, worked on some grandiose projects, she is very well connected and she is recognized worldwide. Running the museum is the main part of her work, sometimes she has to focus on administrative tasks and put her creativity aside. The fine art expert, manager, wife, mother and grandmother, Marinika Babanazarova, has never turned her back on her big love- art.
How did the State Art Museum of Karakalpakstan become an integral part of Marinika Babanazarova’s life? Which famous works of art did she curate? She says about this and many other things in an exclusive interview with Uzbekistan Today.
First Profession of Babanazarova - Translation
Marinika Maratovna, what do you remember from your childhood?
- I was born in an international family, which was quite common in those days (mid-1950s). My father, Marat Koptleuich Nurmukhamedov, was a famous scientist and the first Karakalpak academician. He met my mother, Veronica Sokolova, in Moscow, when he was in graduate school at the Institute of Oriental Studies and they fell in love. My mother was a health worker in the Kremlin hospital. Her love to my father was so strong that she dropped everything and went with him to Karakalpakstan, which she also loved with all her heart.
I was born in Moscow region, where I spent a lot of time as a child. And then we moved to Nukus and lived there with my father’s relatives until 1967. As a teenager, at the age of twelve, I moved to Tashkent, where my father was transferred to work at the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan. We lived modestly, in an atmosphere of common difficulties and joys. We always were encouraged to grow spiritually.
So, does love of art come from childhood?
- Of course, it does. At that time, I could not even imagine that I would work in one of the best museums of Uzbekistan in the future.
Since childhood, my parents cultivated a love of reading in me. Books - world classics, biographies of prominent personalities, historical documentary chronicles, and memoirs - have become the main source of knowledge and subjects for discussion in our house.
At an early age, my father encouraged my interest in English language, which has become the main language of interethnic communication in the world. Dad traveled a lot, and it was clear that knowing English really helped him communicate with scientists around the world.
When his colleagues came to Tashkent, we invited them to visit and got a chance to have very interesting conversations with them. As a result, I was 12-13 years old when I decided to study foreign languages. I liked to "solve" the language of modern songs, especially of The Beatles, which we loved and French chanson.
Was your fascination with foreign languages just a hobby?
- It was more than a hobby. I often helped friends, neighbors, and relatives to translate various texts. Back then, good quality translation was scarce. Translation, understanding of the style of different authors in the original language, comparison with translations was a fascinating pastime for me. And the skills I acquired helped me a lot later in my career. I sometimes had a side job as a translator. The range was very diverse - from the translation of Shakespeare's sonnets, as an interlinear crib into Karakalpak for outstanding poet of Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan, Ibrahim Yusupov, to a variety of synchronous translations.
Let’s talk about your school years.
- We lived in Nukus, our neighbor was a daughter of Tostov, the legendary archeologist, who discovered ancient Khorezm. I retain the friendship with his grandchildren (unfortunately, two of them died this year). After moving to Tashkent, I studied at the famous school №50, which educated many modern Uzbek government officials and prominent personalities, recognized not only locally, but also around the world. Studying in this institution, networking with bright and talented peers and true teachers have enriched me very thoroughly. As well as life in Tashkent. We often went to theaters, concerts and cinema. We saw a lot of famous touring bands. We went to the library of the House of Scientists named after Alisher Navoi and spent long hours there, reading new books. I was engaged in sports and participated in competitions across the Soviet Union.
What were your student years?
- In the 1970s, I attended Tashkent State University, the Faculty of Roman-Greek philology, now National University of Uzbekistan. I was interested in practical and theoretical subjects and courses. At the same time, I completed a training course for tour guides. I worked as a guide in museums of Tashkent and continued to practice my translator skills. I met interesting people, helping them to communicate with each other. I could write a book based on these experiences. A book of memoirs of V.Berezhkov, translated by Stalin, left a strong impression on me at the time. After reading it, I realized the importance of my profession. I liked it very much.
Was this hobby of yours from childhood and adolescence, helpful in your practice as an adult specialist?
-Yes, indeed. It has become one of the foundations for future success, enriching my knowledge and giving experience. I believe that all knowledge and activity are helpful and useful in life. Nothing happens without a reason.
For example, who would have thought that after talking with Prince Charles in 1997, I would answering his questions about why I chose stylistic features of stories of Katherine Mansfield as the topic of my thesis, twenty years later? Mutual love to this writer has violated the strict diplomatic protocol, taking up some time in the program.
Who knew that the desire to obtain practical skills of spoken English, that pushed me to work in the Intourist in student years, would help me a lot in museum work, when I had a challenge of developing tourism in Karakalpakstan practically from nothing.
Savitskiy and Babanazarova
-With whom do you associate your introduction to a new profession?
- Of course, with Igor Savitsky.
-We all know from media and films, that you worked with him. However, you shared very little about the acquaintance with this great man. How did you first meet?
- He has become a frequent visitor of our house since the late 1950s, when he moved from Moscow to Nukus. Dad took him to work at the Research Institute, where he held a senior position. Then, my father introduced him to the laboratory for the study of Karakalpak folk arts and crafts, and subsequently the sector of Art Studies. They made up a strong friendship. It was a special respectful relationship, not only work related. They had radically opposed nature, character and temperament. However, their intelligence, wide horizons, culture, decency, passion, family tragedies in the period of Stalin's "purges" which affect their loved ones and fates of themselves, were common characteristics and circumstances. The same things plus the city of their youth - Moscow, were common for Igor Vitalyevich with my mother.
-It is true, that love for collecting art objects always dominated in the life and character of Savitskiy?
- It is an absolute truth. In this respect, I remember an interesting story. My great-grandmother Daulet with her vintage bracelets, national capes, became a subject of study for Igor Savitsky. He has repeatedly urged her to convey the property of treasures to the museum. When the grandmother died, by the way, at the age of 106 years old, he came and asked, where bracelets are, forgetting about innate sense of tact and even without expressing condolences. Nevertheless, everyone forgave him small eccentricities, missteps and indecorum, because they considered him as a special person. Have I mentioned, that special people always surrounded me? Savitsky forgot about ceremonies, when the point at issue was about art; everything was allowed. He was a genius not of this world.
-It is said, that Savitskiy played a big role in your education.
- -Not having his own family and children, I think, he gave us (me and my sister and brother) all his warmth and care: did homework with us, was interested in our school and student life and affectionately called us as "Princesses and Prince." It sounded funny when he asked me publicly "How is the prince doing?” referring to the service of my brother in the army.
-Igor Vitalyevich originally wanted your sister to help him at work in the museum?
- Yes, he tried to persuade my younger sister Irina to come to work in the museum, because she specialized in ethnography and even was a student of his museum "godmother" T.A.Zhdanko. He also drew attention to the artistic talent of Irina, selecting her drawings to the exhibition in the museum. However, life decided otherwise. Irina created a family and linked her personal and scientific activities with Tashkent.
You took her place. How did it happen?
-After graduating with honors and an invitation to stay and work in Tashkent State University, I did the opposite: returned to my native Nukus. Here, I married a young doctor, Damir Babanazarov. It is not a secret that despite being busy with family life, I often visited the museum and met with an old friend of the family, Igor Savitsky.
Knowing him helped especially when friends, colleagues and the various guests of my family visited Nukus. The city was not rich in cultural and entertainment events, so choice was almost only one - Museum. It was a great pleasure to amaze people, who have seen many amazing and strange places in the world, by our unique collection, as well as a unique museum director. Most of these people left touched for life. All of them supported the museum and activities of both museum directors, because they were influential people. Well-known scientists, environmentalists and doctors, artists, politicians, economists, diplomats and journalists were visitors of the museum. Everyone was amazed how the pearl of world class was suddenly found in such remote place that had been associated primarily with negative socio-economic phenomena.
Second profession of Babanazarova - Art Critic
Then he noticed you…
- It turns out so. As I said, teaching at the Nukus State University was not very satisfying for me. It was obviously not my vocation. Seeing all this, Igor Savitskiy, invited me to work at the museum. At first I didn’t want to accept the offer, but he said that he is lacking specialists, two or three art experts have many family and domestic problems and visiting specialists escape. “Your sister let me down; there is a lack of personnel. You will conduct scientific description of collection, learn everything gradually, museum business is still not taught in the institutions," Igor Vitalyevich said then. He expressed his unflattering opinion about the then existing system of education, tried to dissuade me of the need to re-enroll at the university to study art, but I dared to disobey him.
Did you not agree with Savitsky?!
- Yes, and I was three times right! Firstly, a manager of an art museum should be a professional, especially, of the institution of such level as a museum of Igor Savitsky. Secondly, taking into account eternal ambiguous situation of the museum at all times and kind of anticipating its future challenges ahead, it was obvious that the opponents of the museum could use this point for speculation. Thirdly, I have always been lucky with teachers at school and in both universities.
-What was a position he invited you for?
- Originally, he suggested a post of a scientific secretary. However, almost immediately, after I finally came to the museum, he stunned me with a proposal to replace him as the director. By 1983, he was in a deep crisis and despair, because of accumulating million debts to the owners of borrowed works, because of that he had to stop the construction of the museum in 1980. He was also depressed because of the endless complaints of artists and enemies. Finally, his health condition was a factor, although health for him was the least important. He somehow believed that women, especially, of local nationality, would easier solve the problems of the museum. And he will be there to offer support.
What was your reaction to the second proposal?
- I flatly refused, realizing the absurdity of such replacement, although he reassured that he would do everything on his own. Eventually, I came to the museum as an academic secretary.
Were you afraid of such drastic change?
- The work of an academic secretary gave me perfect conditions for understanding of the new profession. Despite all my privileges, I decided to study again, accepting additional challenge of combining work, family and education. I studied seriously and fundamentally and never allowed myself to enjoy any privileges. In addition, I always was a perfectionist, believing that it is necessary to be a professional in your own field and explore the subject to the smallest detail. It is not an easy quality, which affects primarily yourself, and then your surroundings. However, it gave me knowledge of every sphere of museum affairs, except for the practical restoration. I required that from employees as well, focusing on discipline and order. Of course, it caused a painful reaction. Those who preferred so-called "creative freedom" left the museum. It certainly multiplied the number of enemies and envious, I inherited from Igor Savitsky, who passed away soon after (1984). As soon as they realized that the museum would not change course with my arrival, they started to attack. In general, I got a difficult business.
Did you regret becoming a director?
- Not a single day. I still remember that day ... The procedure was unusual, non-standard, as well as everything related with the museum in Nukus. All academic staff was invited, who gathered and applauded the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers. In the last year of life, Savitskiy announced to the administration his request to appoint me as the director of the museum. After the death of Igor, there were three candidates to the post. I did not give second thought to his proposal, being sure, that it is no longer in power. Moreover, I never wanted to take on a leadership role. After the funeral, I took a break.
When I returned from vacation, I found out that a group of senior associates of Savitsky addressed to A. Khudaybergenov, the Minister of Culture of Karakalpakstan, to nominate me for the position. They decided the fate of the museum after the loss of its founder. Apparently, they were concerned not only about ignoring the will of the founder of the museum, but they were loyal to their business and understood the situation. Let me remind you that this was before Perestroika, when this phenomenon, considered as a manifestation of democracy - to choose leaders, was widespread. A. Khudaibergenov, who made a great contribution to the cultural development, was always sensitive to the problems of the museum. Finally, he took the side of the team. Now, it all surprises me.
What were your first steps as the director of the museum?
- I woke up in the middle of the night, in horror, and thought how can I live with it? How can I overcome these problems?
The departure from life of Igor Savitsky, was too early for me. He had no time to prepare me for this role of the director. I was only 29 years old with lack of knowledge, experience and administrative skills. All the work was based on emotions.
I faced many problems and challenges, immediately. A commission came to collect the jewelry, even before Savitsky was buried. Later, they wanted to take early works of Tansykbaev to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Again emotions. Even tears. Artists wrote complaints to the Regional Committee, the Central Committee; the owners required returning unpaid items back; debt of the museum on the most conservative estimates was worth about two million rubles.
This was followed by political upheaval. How did you survive?
- Political cataclysms of 1980-90s were difficult for the museum. This was a special era. However, along with catastrophic changes, linked to the almost complete stop of the state budget financing, new opportunities were opened.
Freedom to exchange experience with colleagues, the policy of openness and transparency, tolerant period of independence gave us the opportunity to speak on equal terms and be accepted into the international museum community. I was able to study the experience of more than two hundred important museums in Europe, Asia and America, to communicate with legendary directors I.A. Antonova, V.A. Pushkarev, M.B. Piotrovsky, and Philippe de Montebello. I had internships at the Louvre, the British Museum and the best art museums in the United States, Vienna, Amsterdam, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Participating in international conferences, allowed us to introduce the most advanced methods of work: organize registration and storage, create own database for consultation and restoration, invite experts from around the world to Nukus.
At that time, the museum became a pioneer of new programs.
-Yes. There were many. For example, the Project ‘museum on wheels’ has operated for rural children for more than 10 years. Then we set up the first group of guardians and supporters of the museum ‘Friends of the Nukus Museum’. Similar groups exist everywhere in the world. However, this idea was hardly accepted. It is still, for some reason, causing mixed reactions and suspicion. Everyone sees this as something they want to see. The first step is always the hardest. Over time, this aspect will be treated adequately.
It was necessary to reform other areas of work as well, to seek funds, to train personnel in view of emerging realities. The museum has become a point of attraction of public, has given impetus to the development of tourism in Karakalpakstan. The revival of crafts and the establishment of museum and souvenir industry, which was only in dreams and plans in the past, became a reality, exceeding expectations placed by officials.
The staff of the museum led by you developed rapidly. Who supported you?
-The government placed objectives before us and supported us. We really proved to the world that we are no worse than others, spoke on equal terms with the aesthetes and experts, representatives of royal families of Europe, diplomats and politicians, because the level of masterpieces presented at the Nukus Museum, opened the way to the hearts of many.
The strictest connoisseur and patron of the museum is the head of the state, Islam Karimov, who supported us in many ways. Due to his decision, a huge museum complex, which has no analogue in Central Asia, is being built. In the 1990s, we had our first exhibitions in Europe under the patronage of the President.
Which aspects of work at the museum, do you remember the most?
- Probably, the appointment as the director. After all, the minister had no obligations to Savitsky, except human ones. Museum is a state institution that lives according to the rules. However, the appointment was held and the will of Igor Savitskiy came true.
Despite the difficulties I overcame, I remember dramatic moments when he had to defend the integrity of the collection. It happened more than once. I am not superstitious, but by some miracle, under the patronage of heaven or the spirits of ancestors who patronize the museum, we triumphed in a variety of troubles, learning from our mistakes, we manage to go our own way - it is an invaluable experience.
What are the brightest moments of the modern Savitsky Museum?
-There are many memories. I carefully bear in mind landmark events in the life of the museum, which became part of the history of the country and in the history of world art.
In 1993, I first travelled to United States, to present the museum and to defend the honor and dignity of the country. We were not widely known. In the best case, foreigners heard about the tragedy of the Aral Sea. They could not find a flag of the country to accompany my presentation. However, at the end of our 40-day trip, the whole group of curators of the states that received independence in those years (it is not only the CIS, but also Singapore, South Korea, the former Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe), all together have supported me and exchanged contacts to meet again, already in Uzbekistan. In that trip, during meetings in the most prestigious institutions of the United States, participants excitedly talked about our country, museum and art. The uniqueness of the museum invariably became the subject of discussion.
I remember first exhibitions abroad, which were no longer a part of the all-Union exhibits, but independent, our collection. There was an Opening Day in Germany in 1995, in France in 1998 and in Italy in 2000. Everywhere we held exhibits at the highest level.
In these moments, you realize how unique our country is in terms of history, traditions and culture. We were welcomed with such honors and admiration. That makes you feel enormous pride for a country, which conquered hearts of the most refined aesthetes.
By the way, I could never understand why only athletes after winning abroad are greeted with honors and covered by media.
Wife. Mother. Grandmother.
How do you find time in your busy life for your family?
- Probably, there is no need to mention that with my many public responsibilities, my family life was placed second. Not everyone can make such a sacrifice. However, I was very lucky in that regard. My parents, my husband's family and my husband, respected my decision. In this sense, they were completely unconventional, freeing me from the many stresses common for our society. I went to the university, on business trips, often with children. I had all the conditions and understanding for professional growth. My husband helped me a lot.
My husband helped when a heating system was broken at the most inopportune moment at New Year's Eve. He walked around with a wrench and a blowtorch, as the museum never had the budget for proper maintenance workers. He greeted the museum visitors. He was with me the night, when the news about the death of Igor Savitsky came out and it was necessary to address issues related to the funeral in Nukus urgently. We experienced together many complex fateful moments.
At the same time he worked in responsible positions…
- Yes, he was responsible for his official duty as the Minister of Health of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, in the most difficult moment of health care system reform (as I call it "transition from free medicine"). He had no vacations, had a heart attack, and burnt himself out at the age of 50. In 2001, he left me without his valuable support and advice. He was very wise, noble, diplomatic, had a great sense of humor. Hereditary doctor (his father Babanazarov Reypnazar Ametovich was also the organizer of healthcare in Karakalpakstan, soldier, commander of the Order of Victory, which reached Berlin, and his mother Vera Safovna Sayfutdinova, also a doctor, worked all her life in the most difficult section of the leprosarium), they lived up to their oath to Hippocrates.
Have you borrowed some qualities from the husband-manager? Any experience of administrative work?
- To tell the truth, I did not accept his leadership style, considering it as too humane and gentle, but people loved him for it. In the end, I have taken over a lot from him afterwards. I remember with tears, a patient from a distant village grew ten tulips, which he brought to Damir Reypnazarovich, after he saved the patient’s son from certain death. The family had no money for the operation. Each tulip was wrapped in a separate paper. This modest gift, grown with love in a year of catastrophic water scarcity, was worth very much.
Your family grew two daughters. How are their fates?
- Our girls, Dinara and Nazira, were raised in a loving and caring in family. They inherited respect to spiritual values and culture from the family. I think that both of them actualized themselves.
Dinara graduated from the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, and became a good international economist. Now she raises her children and became a wonderful mother and wife. There are peace and love in her family with Sirojiddin Zaynutdinov. My grandchildren are very talented. Aziz (13 years) reads a lot, studies well and is engaged in sports. The granddaughter Camilla (9 years old) is engaged in choreography. Despite the fact that they live far from homeland, the father teaches them Uzbek language, fosters respect for family and seniors. I miss them very much. I want to compensate for not being able to give full attention to my children due to work, by taking care of my grandchildren.
The youngest daughter Nazira is now my main assistant. She graduated from the National University of Uzbekistan. Nowadays she works in a tourism sector. According to family tradition, she willingly does a lot for the museum: she maintains museum social network on Facebook, participates in tourism fairs and presentes the museum at various events.
How are your relationships with other loved ones and relatives?
- I always lived in mutual understanding; mutual respect and mutual help with all of them. By the way, not only my husband and daughter assisted me in the position of the director of the museum. My brother Arthur, sister Irina and son in law Armen also did for the museum very much. They transported the library of T.A. Zhdanko from Moscow to Nukus, searched rare restoration materials, inventory and transferred them to the museum. All their friends were involved in the life of the museum, helping many employees in the life and everyday issues.
Looking back, I can say with certainty that I do not regret anything.
Interviewed by Oleg Gaevoy
Photo from personal archive of M. Babanazarova
The material was prepared within the framework of the social order by the Fund for Support of NGOs and other civil society institutions under Oliy Majlis.