Published in iHOLA! magazine (Spain), issue No 3498, August 17, 2011
Gulnara Karimova was appointed Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Spain in January 2010 and in this exclusive interview and photoshoot, she lets us in on the charm of her native country. Uzbekistan is situated in the heart of Central Asia – where cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, with their stunning bright blue and gold mosques, form part of the Silk Route and where the legend of Timur or Tamerlane, the 14th century conqueror who came after the Persian Empire and Gengis Khan, still resonates. Landing in Uzbekistan today, one can see how its traditions survive in spite of being in the flux of a great evolution – seen in the modern buildings with their manicured gardens showcasing huge fountains.
Gulnara Karimova represents Uzbekistan in the United Nations, as well as in other international organisations in Geneva, where she lives for a large part of the year and is an honorary member of the Cercle Diplomatique de Genève.
Since 2009 she has been the head of a large social organisation, backed by UNESCO, which aims to educate youngsters and children. In fact, she has founded `Fund Forum`, a public organisation to promote social initiatives, with offices in Tashkent, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Madrid, Berlin and New York.
Beautiful, elegant, mysterious and absolutely fascinating, Gulnara moves at ease within the international celebrity jet-set. Her house is her world, situated at 2,000 metres above sea level, at the top of a range of red-tinged mountains that reflect in the turquoise lake at their feet. The house is surrounded by a wild natural beauty and is like a remote oasis, where Gulnara is able to spend her most intimate family moments.
- Please tell us a bit about the history of this amazing house.
- It`s high up amongst the mountains, surrounded by plants and trees and near a river. It has got views over an artificial lake – one of the most beautiful of all Asia. I`ve loved this place since I was a little girl. I wanted a cosy house. I love the seclusion of this area – the accessibility is so limited that it creates an absolute privacy. My two children have been raised here. It`s the best place to spend time as a family.
- The decoration is very personal.
- We tried to use materials, pale colours, and varnishes that are as clear and natural as possible so that it would lighten everything up. The idea is to have a flexible space so that we can change the decoration, add paintings and antiques, as the feeling takes us. I love to maintain the harmony between these mountains and trees – bringing into the interior the same atmosphere that we see outside.
- The amazing window that looks over the lake is like looking into a fairytale.
- It was an open balcony before but, since we have very cold winters, I thought it made sense to have it glassed-in so that we could sit out there even when it snows – experiencing the outdoors within the warmth of the house.
- How do you like to represent your country when you are abroad? What sort of style do you like to embody?
- I always say that I`m diplomatic by nature, I`m not an official ambassador because that is like having a title. I`ve always tried to disseminate the ideas, essence and the spirit of my country. Even when I was studying at school or spending time with friends out and about, I would talk of artists and architects. Although at times it might have seemed boring, I just love talking about it.
- You are also a fashion and jewellery designer for your company, Guli.
- I started to design jewellery when I was 19 and it soon became a hobby of mine. Then, as I saw how much my friends liked my work, I started to do commissions. And so Guli was born. [The idea for the company`s name] came to me as I was sketching a pomegranate flower - which is what my name means in my language, although it has different meanings in other vernaculars. For example it also means pomegranate flower in Turkish but in Iraqi it is the shadow of the flower and in Pakistani the fire of the flower.
- You like to mix different styles together, old traditions with new focuses...
- I prefer a modern focus with a personal touch - bringing a native purity to the product - even if it`s just in small, almost imperceptible, details from the East, I know those touches are always there.
- You use materials and fabrics with antique embroidery.
- I`ve spent a lot of time collecting fabrics and embroidery styles and have an interesting collection. The embroidery is a small touch from the East. I like to incorporate old belts into dresses or embroidery from hats into suits.
- Could you tell us a bit about how you got involved in all your charities - such as breast cancer prevention and all the youth groups and cultural organisations?
- It all happened around the same time. It was a natural process from the start. Eight years ago I was working in Moscow and I realised that there was a huge cultural vacuum which had to be filled. I`ve noticed something similar in Spain and lots of other countries. We try to carry out initiatives through charity promotions - as happened in Japan where we established a Business Forum, which has been around for five years and started as a cultural organisation. We started Fund Forum with art exhibitions. We had a lot of powerful and respected friends in that country who started important initiatives in order to help our activities. In this way they committed themselves to help our Forum - so that now it has converted into a Business Forum, if you like.
- How did you come to create the Fund Forum?
- I believe everything in this life can come about from very little and in a very natural kind of way - like song and music. Right now it`s fashion and that`s why we`ve established a Forum in Moscow. When I came back to Uzbekistan I realised that there were lots of things to be done. Therefore the Fund Forum has developed into a social movement. It used to focus on art and culture in Uzbekistan, but now it has sub-divided and become the right moment to bring lots of other professions in who not only work in art and culture but also support other projects such as cancer prevention, schools and educational aid. We don`t just want aid for the teachers from nursery to college/university level but also to teach the teachers how to prepare the youth of today. This is something that was missing and will be highly valuable.
- What sort of support do you count upon?
- I have a support network that is very useful and interesting. We`ve created a movement that is really great and which covers seven types of professions. While before we reached a couple of thousand people, we now embrace some 75,000 participants every year, who have been selected transparently by a jury composed of highly respected professionals, well known in the country, be they poets, writers, doctors etc. That`s why the jury is composed of people from very different professions, who are highly trusted and professional. They are also well known. And it`s very attractive to the youngsters because they can afford it, it`s fun and they end up becoming part of a big family.
- You have created network of television studios and radio stations for the young, aside from promoting social and journalistic activities in your country.
- Private television companies are particularly important because they include the private sector in a special way, which creates a climate of trust. We have a job centre for some 5,000 youngsters, another of languages, including the teaching of Spanish, and another for the development of international patents like IT Telecoms. We`re developing loads and reaching loads of new areas. For example in the centre for the prevention of breast cancer, we are a team of women who have suffered from the illness and have managed to overcome it and are keen to help others. We are the crux of this organisation. The people who have had this experience become the gurus of the organisation. It`s essential to find people who perform their jobs with passion. The key is to have the right person for the job, who is committed and believes in what they do.
- You are Uzbekistan`s Ambassador to Spain...
- I started working in Geneva three years ago when I started a new project there. Now it is a big challenge to work in Spain and I am very enthusiastic about it. It’s got a much more pragmatic and political element compared with the rest of the organisations I work in. Uzbekistan and Spain`s relationship started over 600 years ago when the then Spanish Ambassador, Señor Clavijo, developed diplomatic relations with Amir Timur, King of a large territory called Timuland. Clavijo also had contacts with the Ambassadors of Timuland and Turkestan in Spain. From then on and during Soviet times, cultural contacts between the two countries were lost but Spain is one of the few European countries which has had good, strong contacts with Uzbekistan.
It`s going to be a big challenge for me to re-establish those cultural links and connections aside from having the amazing honour of being the first Uzbekistan woman to have had her credentials presented to His Majesty the King of Spain. Seen together – from an internal and external point of view – I think it’s a very important factor.
- Inès de la Fressange, Sonia Rykiel, Chanel, Balmain, Kenzo, Salvatore Ferragamo, Oscar de la Renta, Agata Ruiz de la Prada, José Carreras, Julio lglesias, Sting, Montserrat Caballé have been special guests of your Style.Uz Art Week.
- Because of my interest in fashion I`ve been promoting Art Week. It`s going to take place between the 23 and 28 of October and has been happening for six years now. Initially it was a different kind of event. It has evolved a lot because big names have been bringing their collections here which mean that our national designers have been upping their game and improving the prestige of our national fashion industry – especially as we have a handcraft tradition and the ability to take things to a higher level. This project is orientated at all young Uzbekistan designers in the hope that they incorporate the national spirit in their work. It never stops to amaze me how fresh and exciting their ideas are. We also have the Underground Youth Fashion Show with really incredible designers.
- Another important date is your National Festival of Cultural Tradition.
- This year we`re going to have a cinema festival and fashion shows featuring famous designers, but more importantly is that we`ve invited well-known writers to the event – such as Kensington Harris of ´The Creation In Two Hours”. In May the National Festival of Cultural Traditions took place for the fourth time and it has been designated by the UN as the only one in the world to take place in a historic part of our country – where there are archaeological investigations, art auctions, art exhibitions and excellent food and dancing. It`s of great national interest.
- Do you have any projects to promote all this in Spain?
- We`ve just showcased some exhibitions in Spain to try and encourage business interest and interest from the Spanish community. We brought over photos and antique paintings from Samarkand, as well as some embroidery and antiques from Bukharа. Information about these kind of things could generate interest.
© Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation, 2004—2013
All rights reserved. Copying, redistribution (including on websites, and reviews), broadcasting, dissemination or any other use of the articles and other materials on the Fund Forums website by any means without the written permission is prohibited and is subject to liability according to the copyright law of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Address: 80, Uzbekistan str., Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Tel./Fax: (998 71) 239 27 71, 239 27 74