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Tajikistan: Digital technology sparks women’s creativity

With its unique cultural traditions and folk arts, Tajikistan is a country full of vibrant and diverse cultural expressions. Yet the lack of education and professional development stand in the way of Tajik women fully participating in the creative cultural industries. Digital Arts Academy, one of four winning proposals of “You Are Next” UNESCO | Sabrina Ho Initiative, hopes to address this gender gap by offering digital arts training to 24 women from Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Published on 10.09.2020

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Implemented by a local NGO Bactria Cultural Center, Digital Arts Academy has provided participants courses on digital creation, animation, cinematography, coding and web programming, photo and video editing, as well as entrepreneurship. In addition, an intensive one-month summer school programme was organized in Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, during which participants enrolled in digital master classes. Jama Jurabaev, a well-known concept artist, illustrator and art director based in London shared his experience of working for the film and game industries with students.

The programme facilitated internship opportunities for students to turn their learning into practice. With the support of partner organizations such as television and radio stations, design firms, and creative advertising agencies, each trainee completed a six-month internship in an area of their interests. The internship programme has had direct impact on the careers of the aspiring creators. “Three participants received job offers from the companies they interned for, and others moved on to other organizations in pursuit of a higher-paid position,” said Niyoza Ayni, project manager.

Prior to the training, digital art was a field that was out of reach for young women due to lack of information and opportunities. “I am one of those dreamers who hope to bring digital arts and IT skills to girls. Especially in my community, most girls grow up in an environment that can’t satisfy women’s learning needs,” said Ayni.

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Digital arts in the practice: leveraging the creativity for a better future

A grant mechanism was established for Digital Arts Academy graduates to support their creative initiatives. Five projects were selected for small grants funding, with a focus on creative use of digital technologies. Manizha Babakulova and Nasiba Karimova’s project Break the silence, one of the five funded initiatives, is an exhibition dedicated to female victims of violence in Tajikistan. They exhibited paintings and digital portraits of 20 women who suffered from violence and are today ready to tell their stories after years of silence. The exhibition has deeply touched the public and triggered widespread conversations around gender-based violence.

Burkhanova Gulnoza has been drawing fictional characters since her childhood. In Digital Arts Academy, she was able to brush up on her digital drawing techniques and give her characters a new stage. With the grant from Digital Arts Academy, Gulnoza launched Pixart – character design and illustration courses using Adobe Illustrator. Gulnoza made sure to make the class accessible in order to share the joy of digital creation with a large audience. Students master Adobe Illustrator in the process of creating their own characters. Gulnoza is always proud to share excellent works created by her students, the youngest of whom is only thirteen years old.

Through Digital Arts Academy, these young women from Afghanistan and Tajikistan not only developed digital skills to show their creativity, but also gained greater confidence and independence.