Ceramic Artist Gulyara Babaeva: Reflection on Creative Work, Family and Continuity

I first saw works by Gulyara Babaeva once visiting an exhibition. The paintings drew me like a magnet with a sense of great sincerity and the young artist’s creative signature style. On hearing my enthusiastic response, one of the visitors advised me to have a look at her handcrafted ceramics. I must confess that I did not give due consideration to them at that time thinking of the ceramic works as the young artist’s hobby.

Quite the opposite, in fact: Gulyara Babaeva is a ceramist and her paintings are a creative experiment. Her clay pieces made with exquisite and tasteful craftsmanship quickly became a success and made Gulyara famous. Nevertheless, the artist confessed in a conversation that she had dreamed of becoming a doctor as a child.

– My mother was a primary school teacher and she often needed to get something decorated or designed. I enjoyed doing this work because I was good at drawing, Gulyara tells. “Your daughter is truly talented”, my mother’s co-workers said. “She should study to become an artist”. In 1998, I started going to an art school in Turkmenabat. It was my teachers, Tatiana Vasilievna Ostashova and Victor Mikhailovich Petrov, who introduced me to the world of art.

However, after finishing comprehensive school, I went to Ashgabat to apply to Medical Institute. I failed to receive the passing score on my admission examinations and took it very hard. Shortly thereafter, an accident happened in my family. My brother had a car crash and I fainted at the sight of blood. We were both put into an ambulance and rushed to hospital. My brother made a quick recovery and I realized that I was too sensitive and vulnerable to become a doctor.

Once I saw a ceramist artist on TV craftily making clay figurines and I felt an irresistible urge to try my hand at it. On my father’s advice, I used the clay I found in our garden, but it was hard to shape it into figurines, and what is more, it crumbled easily. Tatiana Vasilievna gave a helping hand to me, having introduced me to professional clay. I baked clay in our domestic oven instead of a ceramic kiln. Those, who have worked with clay, are well familiar with its malleability that makes it such an attractive and exciting material to work with. Being soft and pliable, clay responds quickly to touch as though guessing what artists want to make out of it and helping them.

I became a student at the Academy’s Art College on my fourth try. In 2000 and 2001 I applied to Easel Painting, in 2002 – to Sculpture and only in 2003 – to Ceramics. My third failure was the most memorable of all. My would-be husband, People’s Artist of Turkmenistan Saragt Babaev, who invigilated and graded the decisive final entrance examination, gave me a good mark (4). But I needed the highest mark (5) to obtain the passing score…

In 2003, when I finally entered the Art College (the Department of Ceramics), an official ceremony was held to present first-year students with their student ID cards. And it was … Saragt Babaev who handed them over. Taking the long-awaited pass to my dream, I felt like saying: “You underestimated my abilities, but I have entered the Art College, anyway!” Apparently my facial expression betrayed me.

– Are you still offended? he asked smiling.

– Yes…

– Come to my studio with your fellow students. I give free evening art classes. We gladly accepted the invitation because classes by such an acknowledged master were a stroke of good fortune for us.

Time went by quickly. I graduated from the college with honors in 2007 and I was assigned to a one-year teaching at school No. 16 in Turkmenabat. After that, I entered the State Academy of Arts of Turkmenistan.

By that time, I had become a member of the Union of Artists of Turkmenistan. My studies at the Academy indirectly brought me closer to Saragt Babaev again. The sculptor’s daughter and son-in-law, Bakhar Annagulyeva and Bayram Annagulyev, were my teachers. We often saw each other and spent much time talking. And after a while, I realized that it was not just a deep reverence and admiration I felt for the artist, I did love him tenderly. Fortunately, our love was mutual and we got married.

A ceramic figurine called “Tumar” was my graduation work. …According to ancient chronicles, Cyrus II, the king of Persia, invaded the lands of the Scythians. He captured the son of Queen Tumar (aka Tomyris, translates as ‘Brave’), Spargapises, who died later. The fearless queen led her troops against the enemies, defeated them, killed the treacherous king, and revenged her son’s death… My imagination had conjured up a vision of the beautiful woman warrior, ruler and loving mother. I received an excellent mark for my work.

Today I am a teacher at the Academy. I have six talented diploma students and I take pride in their achievements. I usually start the first lesson by quoting my husband: “Every person possesses only one percent of God-given talent, and the remaining part is hard work and determination. A mentor is a person who helps and inspires.”

Ceramists tend to have their own special recipes for clay preparation: how to knead it and what ingredients to add in order to make a work of art radiating warmth. I have a small laboratory where my students and I experiment. We look for recipes in old books and on the Internet, and change the proportions of ingredients. I gladly learn together with my students, trying something new.

I dream of making ceramic clay and glaze safe and eco-friendly. That is why I want to substitute toxic and harmful lead for specially pressed plant ash. I am halfway to the new technique now.

Gulyara’s other dream is to see clay miniatures and an eclectic mix of original creations by her son, Bally, and her works featured in an upcoming ceramics exhibition.

There was no doubt that yet another artist had been born in the family: at six months old Bally crawled to paints and clay and was obviously fascinated by them. Bally is fourteen now. Back in the past, visitors to the Expo Center had the chance to see his finely crafted works. Portraits of his father, Saragt Babaev, caught my eye at that time. Created in a true Dadaist fashion (Dadaism was the avant-garde artistic movement), his paintings with a touch of subtle humor are very positive.

Although the young artist wants to become a sculptor in the future, he finds much delight in painting and ceramics as well. His parents highly encourage his creativity, versatility and enthusiasm for self-motivated learning, regarding them as truly essential for their son’s individual development, artistic expression and his entire life.

I hope that the creative Babaev family dynasty will continue to grow and extend, enriching culture with novel ideas, the depth and breadth of visions and a fusion of styles.



Source: Turkmenistan: the Golden Age Online Newspaper

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