29 November 2006 - 24 February 2007
Over 200 photographs by Max Penson (1893-1959) documenting the radical transformation of Uzbekistan from a highly traditional feudal society into a modern Soviet republic taken between 1920 and 1940 will be exhibited for the first time in the UK, here at the Gilbert Collection, Somerset House, from 29 November 2006 to 24 February 2007.
The exhibition is staged by the Moscow House of Photography and curated by Olga Sviblova, one of Russia’s leading arts specialists. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has sponsored the exhibition catalogue.
The exhibition forms the photography element of the 2006 Russian ACT festival, a major celebration and showcase of Russian culture taking place at venues across London from 4 October to 2 December. The festival includes orchestral music, theatre, jazz, and two dance events; one featuring Igor Zelensky and Darcy Bussell and the other bringing contemporary dancers Diana Husein and Anna Abalihina to London for the first time.
The 20th century history of Central Asian
countries like Uzbekistan had remained largely hidden until the collapse
of communism during the early 1990s. Penson's archive contains roughly
30,000 images taken while he worked as a photographer for Central Asia's
largest newspaper, Pravda Vostoka (Truth of the East), from 1926 until
1949. But, accused of being influenced by the West, he fell from official
favour and in 1948 rising anti-Semitism forced him to leave his job after
25 years of working at the paper.
Some images depict women in traditional horsehair
veils while in others they wear trousers and drive tractors, previously
unheard-of tasks for women in this part of the world. Men are shown
digging vast irrigation canals, attending literacy classes and watching
sporting events or theatrical performances.
Max Penson was born in 1893 in the Belorussian
village of Velizh, the son of a bookbinder. He studied art in Lithuania,
returning to his hometown in 1915. The Russian pogroms forced him to flee
to Kokand in Uzbekistan not long after, where he found employment as an
art teacher. The gift of a camera in 1921 changed his life, and from then
on he gave up painting, moved to Tashkent and began working as a
professional photographer. He died in 1959 as a result of depression and
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