The maternity hospital No3 reception hall in Dushanbe welcomes the visitors with a huge sky colour mosaic panel. “People should feel welcome when they enter and leave the hospital happily,” said a doctor of this maternity hospital. The idea for making mosaics in the interior of the maternity hospital, seems to come from this phrase. The rapid population growth of the 80s required the construction of a new maternity hospital. It was the third maternity hospital built in the city. It was completed in 1985, and its reception room was adorned with an enormous tender blue panel three years later, in 1988. The mosaic stretches like a huge wave across three walls. The mosaic focuses on motherhood, daily routines of doctors, allegorical images of women with a child, nesting pigeons-all about the triumph of motherhood.
Workers at the maternity hospital say it was the Chief Medical Officer Kayosova Zebo Tolibshoevna who proposed to decorate the maternity hospital with mosaics. “The birth of life must be celebrated. She wanted to bring this spirit of life celebration to the maternity hospital’s reception hall. Zebo Tolibshoevna was a gorgeous woman, she dressed beautifully, and had a solid understanding of art,- one of the doctors recalls. Another one of her colleagues said: “She truly was an extraordinary person: calm, moderate, she never raised her voice. She was a real professional at work, and yet she loved the theatre, music, literature and art.” Zebo Tolibshoevna’s husband was the City Chief Architect, and both of her sons studied at art colleges. The fact that her family were creative people and her love of art led her to decide to place the mosaic in the maternity hospital’s reception hall. Since then, it is the only maternity hospital in Dushanbe that has preserved mosaics.
Amongst the former hospital workers the mosaics is perceived as something quite personal. They often refer to it as “ours”. One of the doctors who has been working at the hospital since its opening, said: “This mosaic is part of the history of our hospital. It is created with love. It is part of our lives. There was a time when a group of armed men entered the reception during the civil war (1992-1997) and wanted to destroy the mosaic but they saw us, our faces and they couldn’t. That is why this mosaic is part of our life! We are happy and proud to demonstrate this mosaic to our visitors”. Others instantly remember Zebo Tolibshoevna, the then Chief Medical Officer, when referring to the mosaic. That is, this mosaic is associated with a person. When people speak about this mosaic, they speak about Zebo. For them, this mosaic represents Zebo Tolibshoevna’s story.
Sangov Yusufjon, a local muralist, is the author of this work of art. Sangov has created many other important mosaics, and one of the special ones being the mosaics on the front side of Dushanbe Puppet Theatre. Born in 1944 in Kulyab, he graduated from the department of mural painting at the Art and Industry College (formerly Stroganov’s). When commenting on the works of Sangov, Tatiana Ovcherova says in her book about Sangov’s work that the desire of Sangov to become an artist originates from “…the incredible diversity of colours of Kulob… Or maybe his mother’s finest embroidery patterns resonated in his soul …” Indeed, Sangov’s art works are known for their colourfulness and abundance of bright colours. As an element of his works, the author often uses sun, and often his native land inspires him to create art. Sangov created this mosaic at the start of perestroika. This was the time when reforms were introduced by the Soviet management to liberalize the Soviet society’s political-economic and socio-cultural environment. Art could go beyond the traditions of socialist realism in upholding freedom of expression. The Soviet government paid special attention to art since the early days of the Soviet state, using art for pedagogical and educational purposes with the aim of creating a Soviet person. The art of that era had a straightforward and clear objective, it brought a particular message to the viewers, and it was intended to be understood equally by all individuals. There was no room for individual or personal interpretations, whether from the artist, or the viewer, and the idea was that the artworks should be understood “collectively”. The elements of realism are definitely noticeable in this work, highlighting the significance of medicine, upholding the function of the doctor, and honouring the triumph of motherhood. At the same time this work shows the elements, images and shapes far from the stories of the real life. The author uses allegoric images which make people think and search for the meaning for themselves.
The mosaic “Motherhood” is assembled from tesserae using direct assembly method where each tessera is glued to the wall manually. As the author of this mosaic Sangov Yusufjon said: “This is the finest mosaic in Dushanbe.” The basis for this particular mosaic is the theme of “beauty of motherhood”. The mosaic has stretched over three walls of the reception hall of the hospital. Each wall has a different storyline but they all reflect a certain side of the motherhood. On the right side from the entrance there are three women and a child, who are symbolically standing on the Earth. The mosaic on the left side of the entrance has a more routine characteristic and depicts doctors’ daily life. The mosaic that is directly opposite the entrance, by the information desk, has small themes, each representing a woman and a child, family and birth.
But the author of the mosaic in the maternity hospital says that the idea is based on the work of Renaissance era Italian artist Raphael “The Three Graces”. Raphael’s painting dates to 1504. The image depicts three naked girls who represent innocence, beauty and love. All three girls are holding golden apples – a symbol of perfection. The author has taken this plot and adapted it to the context of that time and location of the mosaics. Thus, Raphael’s naked girls were transforned into dressed girls with features resembling the images of his native land.
5. Pigeons and an embryoThe other storylines of the mosaics are located opposite the entrance, directly at the information desk. A nest with two pigeons is one of the images that catches the eye. A silhouette of an embryo can be seen to the right of the nest. Both images are placed within circles. When looking closely at both circles, one can see silhouettes of two birds connected at their beaks. The images of birds represent family, and this imagery is complemented by a nest and an embryo. These images communicate the Soviet ideals of the family, emphasizing that family consists not only of a man and wife but also it must have children. The family institute was given great importance both in the Soviet Union and in Tajik society, and the birth of children has always been one of the important priorities of Soviet policy.
6. A mother with a baby and the cityThere are two other circles on the right side of the same wall. Inside the upper circle is a woman with a child. She is holding the child in her arms, and the child is gently pressing his cheeks against her cheeks. The woman is dressed in white, and a white headscarf on her head is like a wave. Perhaps, some in this image may even see the Madonna with a child. However, the author says he used the image of an ordinary woman, although in this woman one can see distinctive features of girls from his native region.
A Tajik art historian believes the mosaic carries a functional element. She explains it as follows: “The mother and her role in life have always been praised, and this mosaic also praises and glorifies the beauty of motherhood, thus propagating motherhood to be the main purpose of a woman.” So, according to this art historian, the primary function of this mosaic is educational, and that is to instill in women a sense and pride of motherhood. “This mosaic also exalts the significance of healthcare, and encourages people to use medical services,” she added.
Another circle is placed at the bottom of the mosaic, and inside the circle are different buildings. Some are tall, and monumental, yet others are small with arches, but all are strict with straight silhouettes. As the author said, this is the portrayal of Dushanbe city expansion. This image talks about the expansion and active construction in Dushanbe. Large-scale architectural project were implemented in the 80s, and many 9 and 16-storey residential buildings were built and dozens of new schools were constructed. So, this storyline depicts the construction boom in Dushanbe, and by the way this maternity hospital was part of that construction boom.
7. PerceptionEvery day these mosaics are viewed by many people who come to the maternity hospital. On average 15 women are discharged from the maternity hospital daily, and every day about 50 people (visitors) encounter the mosaics. People’s reaction and how they perceive these mosaics are mixed and quite ambiguous. Some only notice the blue background and don’t see the silhouettes. And someone, going to look narrowly at the details. For some, it has a functional component, for someone aesthetic, but for someone something very personal.
Ordinary people perceive the mosaic in different ways, some simply don’t notice it, some stop and actually view it. A young man, for example, says that he did notice the mosaic. He says it is indeed beautiful. But he says the image of syringe in one of the stories scared him. As he says, “That syringe has to be removed, it is not beautiful, and it scares the visitors.” He connected the images of doctor and syringe to a some kind of fear, and he did not perceive them as art. While waiting at the reception hall, a 50 year-old woman says she didn’t notice the mosaic. “At first, I didn’t pay attention to the mosaic, but I like it, it looks ‘old’. It’s colourful, and it serves the purpose, as it reflects mother-child relationship. ” she said. She perceived the mosaic as something beautiful, like art. A young girl, also waiting at the reception, noted that she didn’t like the mosaic, and that it’s old, something new and modern is needed.
However, it was not clear what she meant by something modern.
The Soviet mosaics – as a form of mural art is in a sense a phenomenon, and it was common in the Soviet Union. Many argue that the Soviet mosaics served only one purpose – that is to promote the Soviet state and its ideology, and that these mosaics carry insignificant art value. Still, there are many others who claim that it was in the mosaics, not in the paintings, where the artists had discovered more ways to express themselves. Undoubtedly, all these Soviet mosaics carry an educational value, and perhaps they cultivate certain qualities in passers-by who see them every day. Nevertheless, ordinary people don’t view these mosaics as tools of the Soviet period propaganda, they simply see them as beautiful pieces of art.