This weekend long conversation turned out to be an exceptionally productive incubator for how the ArtLab could proceed and what its structure should look like. And this conversation took place as we strolled down the Park of Remeberance between the long rows of busts of Tajik academics, or over a breakfast of kielbasa, 'french salad' and eggs in a soon to be bustling "banquet hall" - everyone banquets from early Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon, as Naim points out, 'there is no work so what else can one do?' Our conversation continued at the car-parts bazar and in the veritable Khojand stock-exchange, where herds of cows, goats and sheep were gloomily changing hands between super vivacious and noisy stock-exchangers. The mud on the floor of the exchange disturbed Naim's otherwise impeccable outfit of a fine black on black striped suite with a white shirt and a thin tie etched with grey and black diagonal lines. He found it hard to believe that we were actually interested in the animal bazar - he had never been there in his entire life in Khojand - but it all seemed to make sense when he heard that I had started a dairy sheep farm in up-state NY some decades and lives ago.
The long and the short is that Naim could be a key partner in the ArtLab project, prior to our trip everyone suggested he was the go-to guy for cultural projects in northern Tajikistan, and now we know why. Wiley and focussed, Naim, born and raised in Moscow and a scholar of Persian and Turkic languages, is determined to stay in Khujand and invigorate the traditional open culture of the region by countering the outflow of the intelligencia to Moscow, the inflow of fundamentalist Islam from the Taliban regions to the south and the steady acquisition of Tajikistan by the Chinese. Firmly staying put he is building, one program at a time, a broad-based and diverse bulwark of cultural links that encourage the open flow of ideas and greater global connectivity. With the northern, southern and eastern fronts threatening, it makes sense that Naim would look west. It is also an approach supported historically, Tajik is a Persian derived language - Indo-European - and is closer to German than the languages spoken by Tajikistan's Turko-Mongol neighbors. While Alexander the Great's fortress and Rome's she-wolf statue seemed out of place when we arrived, by the time we were picking out a jeep for the arduous drive to Dushanbe, the Tajik - Western European link not only made sense, but seemed a fruitful path forward.
Posted by Gordon Knox