POLYPHONY OF IMAGES AND TALENT FOR HARD WORK
A solo exhibition of works by sculptor Saragt Babayev at the Ashgabat Gallery of the Union of Artists this February provided another opportunity to meet the People's Artist of Turkmenistan. The exhibition exposed visitors to Saragt Babayev's career milestones, whose monumental compositions now serve as a kind of visiting card of Turkmenistan.
The exhibition presented over three hundred works of different years, styles and genres. One could call it, and with good reason, a reporting exercise. It was not only for the fact that the exhibition marked the artist's 70th birthday anniversary. Standing the test of public opinion has always been Saragt Babayev's philosophy in life and art. So, it was not by accident that not only friends, colleagues and numerous students but also all kinds of people - admirers of his outstanding and original talent - came to congratulate the sculptor, feast their eyes on his famous works and see the new ones. In total, over one thousand people visited the exhibition.
The artist has always cared about what people think about him. It has been this way since his youth, when a boy from rural backwoods began to feel the desire to achieve perfection in everything he undertook. I draw such conclusion from my conversation with the artist that we had in his workshop, surrounded by his works, each of which is part of his biography and interesting life path.
Looking at Saragt, an energetic man with unfading glitter of lively and penetrating eyes under black thick eyebrows, watching the movements of his strong, expressive hands and thin musical fingers, I could see that for an individual, who is passionate about his work, age is only a reason for memories. And there are so many of them that even one life would not have been enough. The artist remembers the events and people who helped him develop his worldview and original artistic style.
After finishing his military service that Saragt returned to his old dream, i.e. to enter the Ashgabat Art School. He worked for six hours after classes in a basement workshop at the sculptural department of the Turkmen State Art School. He sculpted and modeled without doubting that the hard work that he was used to since childhood would help him become the best and conquer the next step - the Moscow State Art Institute named after Surikov.
Admission to the Surikov Institute was very competitive. There were no quotas and he competed with others on equal terms. Not everyone even succeeded to submit an application. However, Saragt's persistence was rewarded. Having scored 28 points in art tests, he was second in the list of applicants. Yet, a Russian language dictation test was still ahead and he had practically no chance. As advised by his senior friends, the future sculptor bravely goes to the reception room of the Ministry of Culture. He introduced himself as "a boy from the heart of the Turkmen Karakum desert" and ... he was received by Yekaterina Alekseevna Furtseva herself. He was infinitely pleased that a high-ranking woman, biting her lip, apparently so as not to laugh, said that he came too early. "You haven't been given a poor mark yet, but if they do, come to me."
Having secured such support, the young man slid down a handrail from the second floor in the most cheerful mood. Indeed, three points out of five for a test in the Russian language opened the Surikov Institute's doors for him. He was the most senior and experienced among freshmen and therefore he believed that he did not have time to waste on trifles. Student parties were not for him. He even hang a sign on the door of his dorm room saying, "Before you enter, think first, if you are welcome here!"
Recalling the people that deeply influenced his professional development, Saragt speaks with great reverence of his teacher - the outstanding mural sculptor, People's Artist of the USSR Mikhail Fedorovich Baburin. The master was about seventy years old. An experienced teacher viewed a young diligent Turkmen artist as a promising follower with whom he wanted to continue working together. The Baburin School was a powerful foundation upon which Saragt built his experience over the years and crystalized his own original style of monumental sculpture.
Easel, monumental and decorative sculpture are part of the sculptor's art arsenal. He is known for various plastic interpretations, a subtle sense of space and passion for experimentation. Already in his early works, Saragt had a bent for strict harmony of plastic forms and philosophical overtones that allowed him to create multi-layered images that enable people not only read the artist's thoughts but also bring their own vision into the context. In other words, they make people think.
Saragt Babaev's art world, with all its realistic authenticity, is unusually poetic and lyrical. The theme of art is one of the main themes in the Turkmen sculptor's works. The gallery of images that he created includes poets and writers, musicians and composers, bakhshi and fellow artists, filmmakers and actors. Suffice it to recall the portraits and original compositions dedicated to the classic poets and his outstanding contemporaries such as Nury Khalmamedov, Gurbannazar Ezizov, famous bakhshi musicians Sahi Jepbarov, Orazgeldy Ilyasov, Dovletgeldy Okdirov. In 2007 alone, he made portraits of Izat Klychev, Juma Jumadurdy, Chary Amangeldiyev, Babasary Annamuradov, each of whom presents a complex and colorful character of a multi-faceted personality, conveys in plastic the movement of thought and spiritual impulses of the artists.
Among the dearest works that earned him real recognition, Saragt Babayev refers to the monument to Alty Karliev that stood for many years in the territory of Turkmenfilm studio. According to the sculptor, "when I worked on it, I looked up the archive photographs that were provided by the son of the film director, Murad. However, I was able to come up with the final image only after watching the screen tests for the film "Secrets of Mukam". At work, Karliev appeared to be a strong-willed, energetic and at the same time romantic person.
Critics have repeatedly noted the characteristic feature of the artist's sculptural style - romanticism. For all its realism, the sculptor's reflections on the universal values are clearly seen in his works. Naturally, the works reflect the character of their author - optimist, peacemaker and romantic. It is not by chance that among his favorite sculptures Saragt cites a composition dedicated to legendary hero Gerogly in the city of Dashoguz, a monument in honor of famous horse Yanardag, the official symbol of the country depicted on the State Emblem of Turkmenistan and the sculpture of the singer of love and beauty, Garajaoglan. The eternal foundation of life, beauty and harmony are especially pronounced in these works.
Even the majestic image of commander and ruler Oguzkhan appears unarmed. This image is part the fountain complex Oguzkhan and Sons, which is one of the best works by the famous artist. The author symbolically emphasizes the idea that power is not associated with arms. The artist sees and shows the spiritual wealth of the hero, his resilience, generosity and devotion to the Fatherland. This monumental composition at the entrance to the Ashgabat International Airport is the first attraction for the Turkmen capital visitors.
The characters created by Saragt Babayev include the images of historical figures, commanders and rulers of different eras, political figures of the present, scholars and people famous for their work. A number of statues were installed in the Independence Park, while monuments to prominent figures of science and culture were installed in "Ylham" park (Inspiration). In these works, Babayev together with his colleagues perpetuated the images of the great heroes of the Turkmen history.
In 2015, the artist created the monument "Arkadag", depicting President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov seated on the Akhal-Teke horse, symbolizing the unity of the Turkmen people and the national leader. The image is emotionally expressive and permeated with patriotic feelings.
Yet, there is one permanent image that cuts across all his works. This is Turkmen poet and thinker Magtymguly Fraghi. Monuments to the great Fraghi by Saragt Babayev can be seen not only in cities and villages of Turkmenistan. Sculptures of the classic of Turkmen literature were installed in Stavropol, Astrakhan and Ankara. His workshop still has many embodiments of Magtymguly's image, in small and large forms, made of various materials.
Soon after the above-mentioned solo exhibition, the sculptor again turned to his beloved poet. Magtymguly with a scroll of poems in his hand stands on a working pedestal in the sculptor's workshop. This composition is almost complete. Next to it, there are also new works - Gerogly and musician Chary Hekimov.
It is noteworthy that it was Saragt Babayev who was entrusted with making a large-scale monument to the great poet in Ashgabat. It will be placed in the southern part of the capital city, on a natural hill located not far from the Health Walk. The monument will be 60 meters high, with the inside area diameter reaching 24 meters. According to the author, the monumental image of Magtymguly will embody the greatness of the humanist. The nine and a half meter high sculptural image of Magtymguly is taken as a concept for creation of this monumental work.
Saragt Babayev also continues mentoring. He teaches at the special art school at the State Academy of Arts of Turkmenistan. His workshop is considered a genuine forge of talents. It is always full of students who practice in modeling and sometimes help their teacher to sculpt masterpieces.
Saragt Babayev's sculptural images adorn many expositions not only in Turkmenistan but also in many foreign museums and private collections. The State Tretyakov Gallery exhibits the work "In Memory of Bakhshi Orazgeldy Ilyasov" and the bronze composition "Recollections of the Mother". The composition "Portrait of Mother" is displayed at the Russian Academy of Arts, while copies of this classic work are exhibited in Turkey and Austria. The Russian Academy of Arts keeps his thesis work "The Dyer" as well as "Carpet Maker" commissioned by the Academy.
Saragt Babayev has many regalia and well-deserved awards. On 1 January 2018, the People's Artist of Turkmenistan, the two-time winner of the Magtymguly International Prize was awarded the title of Honorary Elder of the People by the decree of the President of Turkmenistan.
"Of course, all this is pleasant and a sign of respect. Yet, I do not plan to rest on laurels," the artist said. "I am an optimist and I always make plans for the future. I am only afraid of one thing - to be late. And beauty is something that inspires me in my work, in my creativity, for it is omnipresent, one only has to be able to see it."