Today, more than 60 per cent of Uzbekistan’s population consists of young people, yet there are very few amenities catering for those under 25, even in the busy capital of Tashkent. Until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, photographer Stanislav Magay lived in a small industrial town just outside the capital, built especially for employees of the Institute of Nuclear Physics where his parents worked. While the 90s ushered in a new-found youth culture to many former Soviet countries, growing up in Uzbekistan, under the 25-year-long authoritarian rule of its first president Islam Karimov, Magay and his peers yearned for individual freedom. “It starts in school, where you are not allowed to dye your hair, wear bright make-up, have piercings and such,” he explains. “It continues into university, where you are expected to follow a dress-code”.
In present-day Tashkent, night clubs and bars are consistently monitored and closed by force by the state, while theatre plays, rock concerts and art exhibitions, such as the Tashkent PhotoClub group show of recent years, are censored and frequently cancelled. The most popular venues for young people are restaurants, cafes, cinemas (though films too are censored) and parks, where Magay has been documenting his friends living out their twenties. The uncertain economic situation means that many young Uzbek adults live with their parents. On weekends they meet at kvartirniki, small flat parties taking place in friends’ apartments. “Sometimes it’s an overcrowded party in the kitchen of a tiny Soviet apartment, sometimes it’s a sizeable gathering in the backyard of a private house belonging to an expat. Maybe, on a subconscious level, we’ve taken inspiration from a Western way of life, adopted from movies, TV shows and books we’ve read or seen. For me it’s the story about young guys and girls hanging out and having fun,” says the photographer, who emigrated from Uzbekistan, living first in Moscow and now in Tbilisi. While for their European counterparts, house parties are a cheaper alternative to clubs and bars, for young Uzbeks they offer small pockets of freedom.