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Fleeting Confrontations

An Uzbekistani videographer asks us to look at emigrants with a fresh eye. Second in a series.

by Dengiz Uralov 8 August 2014

Earlier this year, TOL and its sister site, NewEurasia, sought out the most promising young visual artists in Central Asia in a competition called Exit Permit.


Olga Fedina, a 25-year-old native of Tashkent, took the top videography prize of 200 euros for a work that was part of a larger exhibition titled Not by Bread Alone, in which she introduces us to successful Central Asian migrants – a departure from the usual focus on unskilled and victimized migrant workers from the region.


In this second of a series of interviews with the winners, Fedina talks about the video, the future of Tashkent, and the nature of those who emigrate.


On her work:


I made​​ this video work for the project Not by Bread Alone, which was held as an exhibition in May 2013. I live in Tashkent, I love Tashkent, and I have already seen seven waves of emigration. A lot of people close to me have left. These are different waves: when you’re 13, and everybody goes to Russia; when you’re 17, and your friends go to Moscow or New York; or when you’re 22. You grow up, and people still leave.



Since childhood I remember conversations like, “Oh, there’s no one left.” People were saying it 10 years ago, and they still say it, and people are still leaving. Once I went on a journey and took photos of people who were born and raised in Tashkent; those for whom Tashkent remains a part of them.


Actually, this video is a collection of portraits. My idea is that you can live next to a person for years and not think about him at all – he’s just there. “Hi, how are you?” – You meet him in the shop, or when you go to take out the trash. “Hi, how are you?” – When you say it, you look at the person, and your interaction takes only 30 seconds or two minutes. I wanted to capture the moment of the accidental, fleeting confrontation.


I wanted people to come to the exhibition for this confrontation to happen. To make them see what the departed person looks like, what is reflected in his eyes. A photo is not enough for this purpose, I needed a video.

I took about 60 people in six cities; most of the photos were taken in Moscow, two in St. Petersburg, one in Baku, two in Tbilisi – the second one by accident. We went to an Uzbek restaurant in Tbilisi, and the manager of the restaurant was a man from my school in my area. He left five years ago, and we just happened to meet there.


On migration:


I used to refuse to understand people who left. I thought they were people who think that the grass is always greener in the neighbor’s garden. What they don’t realize is how cool Tashkent is, and it is cool, of course, because of its people.


I said I wouldn’t leave Tashkent until the city became a closed chapter for me, but that moment came two years later, when my circumstances changed and I realized that I wanted and needed to leave.


When I was on a trip for three months I understood that living in Tashkent is very cool, but you need to leave for half a year or three months. I saw a lot of people who left and came back. For instance, people who had lived in France for 30 years, came back to Tashkent, and now have an easy life.


There are some lovely things in Tashkent you stop noticing when you’re under pressure from different factors that aren’t associated with politics but with the mentality and the way of life, with the temperament of the population. I have no problems, no one bothers me. But I would like to have more soulmates, I would like to have more like-minded people. They all ran away, and behold, I collected them in all the cities. I see some people who don’t have a niche to live and work in.


I had this funny idea, I said to everybody who had left: “Imagine what would happen if you came back to Tashkent for five years?” I had a dream before the shooting of this video to make these 150 to 200 people, who I could name off the top of my head, take time and return for a certain period and do some cultural activity. What would happen? All of us are like heroes of the story of seven brothers and a broom. We are its sticks, and one by one we are easily broken. [She refers to a fable about a father who presents a broom to his sons and tells them it is difficult to break – unless the bristles are taken separately. – TOL]


Generally, migration is positive. How did humans populate the planet? I read that some people have a gene that is responsible for the craving for a change of place, for travel. It’s good that people migrate; it seems to me that those who seek to travel have a greater chance for success and growth.


On the future:


I believe that everything will be fine. I believe that there is no escaping Tashkent. My video is a story about people inside the city. Tashkent was demolished, it was completely rebuilt. It has such karma. There is no escaping for Tashkent, even if it is rebroken and rebuilt. In Tashkent, everything will be fine, but in the same narrow way. Only for those who are looking, for those who are striving for something.


In Tashkent they love whining. You can lounge around for 15 years and say, “I can’t,” and other people will accomplish something. A plus of Tashkent is if you want something it’s easier to live out a dream. Because if you are a photographer or a producer in Moscow, there are hundreds of people like you out there, but here there’s only you.


I think I will continue this project. I think I’ll be working on it till the end of my life and never really be rid of Tashkent. I will always be a girl from Tashkent, wherever I live I’ll find people from Tashkent.

Dengiz Uralov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Tashkent.
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