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Rouslan M. Rakhimov

Associate Professor, American University of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan)
Funded Research Project Title: Promoting Gender Equality Through Public Art: Fostering Cultural Dialogue

Project Title: Promoting Gender Equality Through Public Art: Fostering Cultural Dialogue

Rouslan’s project proposal aims on promoting gender equality through public art: fostering cultural dialogue in the Kyrgyz artistic community. The project will conduct 20 in-depth interviews and two focus groups with members of the artistic community to better understand what approaches are used in public arts, as well as the obstacles in traditional perception. The question aims to answer the following questions: How traditional values and gender images are reflected in public art, and vice versa, how does society change under the influence of these images, or does it change at all? How to strengthen the voices of the public artists’ community in highlighting gender issues, in the face of nationalist and traditionalist sentiments in the society? What should be a common plan/strategy in promoting and advocating the role of public artistic endeavors in front of state/governmental cultural politics?

Community of public artists who will serve as a platform for promoting gender equality through public art. The project will work with a traditional craft ship association for women empowerment in Kyrgyzstan. This association is represented by PF “Kiyiz Duino.” This organization works very actively on women's empowerment by reinforcing their role in traditional craft shift technologies and arts. PF “Kiyiz Duino” works with local women by teaching traditional ways of working with craft technologies. The leader of PF “Kiyiz Duino” AIdai Asangulova is a well-known designer in the country. Aidai is a textile designer; she fuses on combining soft silk and wool felt, weaving tradition with technology. She creates dresses, one-of- a-kind scarves, and wool paintings. Aidai admits that she is inspired by women, culture, and landscapes of Kyrgyzstan. Her works participated in exhibitions and won many international awards. PF “Kiyiz Duino” and AIdai have access to the public art world. They are closely working with designers and modern Kyrgyz artists. Aidai has expertise in different types of art and an extended network in the art community.

This research will help to identify active and potential members of the community through interviews and focus groups, as well as holding an exhibition. Artists are often scattered, or have a blurred view of each other. The community of public artists in the field of promoting gender issues can be divided into the following categories: queer artist-activists, liberal artists, traditional artists working on the promotion of gender and empowerment. It is conditionally possible to designate the community of public artists as feminists, with more radical views and meeting strong resistance from traditionalist groups.

To fulfill the project, Rouslan will work closesly with the public art community. He hopes to develop an elective course that will be based on the civic engagement approach. As Ehrlich (2000) in his book ‘Civic Responsibility and Higher Education’ argued “Working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”* In this course, students will connect and collaborate with public art communities to promote “a transformational force to strengthen community on gender equality and improve women's position in society. Some steps in this process will be developing and introducing the course where students will learn about public art, their appearances, gender representation and in/equalities, and how gender equality might be represented in public art. They are going to meet different public artists and organize discussions, workshops, roundtables, etc. This course will help students to understand the power of public art and how public art can promote gender equality and raise women's voices in a patriarchal structure. Throughout the course, public artists and diverse representatives of the public art community will be invited as guest speakers and facilitators.

A big asset to the research is the participation of the American University of Central Asia, which could serve as an annual platform for exhibitions and public seminars. Ultimately, Rouslan envisions the project will be the starting point for long-term academic collaboration with the public art community.