Saodat Ismailova’s first major solo institutional exhibition, “18,000 Worlds,” surveys more than a decade of films, sculptures, and research work. Carrying across the artist’s mystical and visually dense practice are stylistic elements including the incorporation of grainy archival footage, written and spoken interpretations of dreams, and the filming of traditional rituals and weather-worn landscapes.
The first film on display, Zukhra, 2013, offers an unambiguous framing of a bed in a barren room. The very gradual rising and falling of light reveals the bed as either empty or with a female figure lying still upon it. The soundtrack features a woman’s voice recounting the legend of Zukhra—a young woman who would become the planet Venus—as well as archival recordings of the first president of Uzbekistan. The shamanistic tinges of the work overlay with the rich history of the region, as well as the importance that women play, and have played, in the perpetuation of these myths and rituals.
Peeking out from underneath the screen in this installation is a traditional Uzbek rug, draped over a faint light source to echo the topography of the Hazrat Sulton Mountains. By embellishing craft with more contemporary technologies like neon and projection, Ismailova offers provisional monuments, treatises that underscore the waning of a specific cultural existence while also enshrining its presence.
The most recent work in the exhibition, 18,000 Worlds, 2022–23, draws on the artist’s belief that we only live in one of myriad planes of existence. By delving into her own personal archives as well as those of the Eye Filmmuseum, Ismailova reveals to us a certain wealth. Yet with this abundance, there also comes a pointed insight on how things fade into history.