In today’s increasingly globalised and intertwined world, developing one’s understanding of other cultures has become essential. As we travel and move to bigger cities, we are more likely to interact with people who have different backgrounds and cultures — and to build a more peaceful world, we need to do more than just tolerate each other. Developing an understanding of the different cultures around us allows us to have more meaningful interactions with people. It paves the way towards a global community that is empathetic, respectful and embraces the diverse histories and backgrounds of all people.
Dr Lola Tillayeva (Till) understands this too. Born and raised in Uzbekistan, Lola served as Permanent Delegate of Uzbekistan to UNESCO for ten years. In this role, Lola introduced Uzbekistan’s rich cultural heritage to a European audience. Lola witnessed how learning about different cultures brings people closer together and builds mutual understanding and empathy. Today, even though she spends her time between Europe and the US, her passion for promoting Uzbek culture and history endures.
La Maison de l’Ouzbékistan: A Portal to Central Asia in the heart of Paris
Lola’s passion for showcasing Uzbek culture to the West led to the foundation of the Paris-based gallery La Maison de l’Ouzbékistan. Described as a portal to Central Asia in the heart of Paris, La Maison is more than just a gallery. It curates an exquisite selection of hand-made homewares, finely crafted silks, fine timber furniture and unique ceramic pieces from Uzbekistan. All these items are displayed within their cultural context, allowing visitors to learn about the fascinating history of the ceramics, wooden crafts and silks. The gallery also regularly features local artists, designers, and writers, providing a glimpse into the artisan traditions of the Central Asian country and promoting local talent.
Dr Lola Tillyaeva understands the importance of nurturing these cherished traditions because otherwise, we risk losing the history of our ancestors.
“The items displayed at La Maison are the works of skilled Uzbek craftspeople. Skilled masters have passed on these traditions from generation to generation. The idea behind opening Maison was to nurture and strengthen these artisan traditions.”
“By learning about heritage, culture and history, we begin to understand today’s society and grow more tolerance and passion for one another,” said Lola.
The gallery itself, located in the heart of Paris, is designed to transport you to the faraway lands of Samarkand, Bukhara and other ancient cities of Central Asia. Inside the gallery are two wooden pillars, which were hand-carved in Uzbekistan, resembling the pillars of the famous Juma Mosque prayer hall in Khiva. A brick wall, covered with hand-made blue tiles, is reminiscent of the world-famous Samarkand tilework.
The unique gallery thus brings Uzbekistan to those who might not be able to travel there and allows one to learn about Central Asia’s long-cherished artisan traditions and history.
Ulugh Beg: The Man Who Unlocked the Universe
In 2017, along with her husband, Timur Tillyaev, Lola also produced an award-winning documentary. Titled The Man Who Unlocked the Universe, the documentary highlights the achievements of Uzbek philosopher and ruler Ulugh Beg. It follows the life of this little-known but significant man who transformed the Uzbek city of Samarkand into an epicentre of arts, culture, and science. In the 1420s, he also built the Ulugh Beg Observatory, considered one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world at that time. Well researched and shot on-site in Uzbekistan, the documentary features interviews with modern historians and scientists who talk about the legacy of Ulugh Beg’s work. The documentary won the Kineo Prize for the Best Foreign Documentary at the 74th Venice International Film Festival and the Best Documentary Award at the Ischia Film Festival in 2017.
The idea behind producing this documentary also lies in Lola’s passion for sharing the rich history of Uzbekistan. While Western scientists are revered and studied, the impact of the Islamic world on modern science and astronomy is still not well-known. The telling of Ulugh Beg’s story thus allows people to understand his everlasting impact on the things we know today.
“Growing up in Uzbekistan, I learned the story of Ulugh Beg and his scientific achievements. He built one of the finest observatories and transformed Samarkand into an epicentre of science and arts during his rule. However, I soon realised his legacy was not very well known outside Central Asia. I thought it was a story that the world needed to know,” said Lola.