When the Dictator's Daughter Is Also a Disco Star (and Islamic Art Curator)

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Gulnara Karimova, whose father controls the nation of Uzbekistan, is traipsing the globe on artistic pursuits.

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Gulnara Karimova scoops up flowers at fashion week in Moscow. AP

Gulnara Karimova, culture warrior. 

Before announcing the release of her latest disco pop album yesterday, the daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov - who records under her father's pet name for her, Googoosha - has been traipsing the globe promoting Uzbek culture, including her country's Islamic heritage. 

Under the auspices of her Fund Forum, an exhibition, "Masterpieces of Eastern Calligraphy and Miniature Art: Traditional Culture of Uzbekistan," opened last week in Dubai with works borrowed from the Institute of Oriental Studies at Uzbekistan's Academy of Sciences, the Spiritual Council of Muslim of Uzbekistan, and private collections. Fund Forum, an organization claiming to promote art and culture within Uzbekistan and abroad, published an accompanying book - "Models of Eastern Calligraphy and Miniatures." 

Some might find it odd that as Karimova publicizes the role of Islam in Uzbek art, her father bans religious clothing, installs cameras to keep track of worshippers, and locks away anyone suspected of an interpretation of Islam that does not conform to his standards. Throw in his penchant for torture, and watchdogs call Uzbekistan one of the most repressive countries on the planet.

But Karimova endorses a more "traditional" Uzbek art. 

Fund Forum claims it supports regional Uzbek craftsmen and students, with encouragement from UNESCO, where Gulnara's kid sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is Uzbekistan's permanent representative to the United Nation's cultural wing. 

The Fund serves another purpose, besides promoting art, moreover. Many of its Uzbek partners, like The House of Fashion, are Gulnara's pet projects. Others like the Mehr Nuri Foundation and We Are Near have the same street address - 80 Uzbekistan Street, Tashkent - as the Fund. So while international non-governmental organizations are forced to close their Tashkent offices, Gulnara is able to open a web of local NGOs and appear to support Uzbekistan's embattled civil society.

The safe NGOs help Gulnara incorporate Uzbek art and fashion into her "Guli" jewelry and apparel line, a blend of "modern rhythms of Europe, the glamour of the West, spicy combinations of Asia and grace of the East." 

With all her personal branding, though, sometimes it's hard to believe Gulnara's efforts are really about trademarking Uzbek art. She seems quite concerned with building her own image by offering fluff interviews about fashion, her lavish lifestyle, and her jewelry. 

Yes, in daddy's kingdom, it's still all about Googoosha.

This article originally appeared at EurasiaNet.org, an Atlantic partner site.

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