Places, Uzbekistan, (no)borders

The Doors Are Always Open

Kamilla Akhmedova and Kamila Rustambekova explore the mahallas of Tashkent

Text: Kamilla Akhmedova Photos: Kamila Rustambekova

Stylist Kamilla Akhmedova and photographer Kamila Rustambekova explore the uniquely designed doors to the traditional neighbourhoods—mahallas—of their native Tashkent. Marking the borders of local communities, the distinctive style of each door mirrors the characteristic features of these areas. 

Sometimes, you might feel like a tourist in your own hometown. You wander around the city and seem to be teleported to another life. For me, it has become a kind of ritual, and now, when I want to recharge my batteries, I always go to the old bazaar or to the mahallas. Especially to the old ones. 

Mahalla is something like a self-governing quarter where all the residents know one another and are very close-knit. Here you can see kids flying kites, elderly men playing backgammon, and covered women watering the ground. Mahalla is a place where you will always be greeted, offered fruits from people’s private gardens, and provided help if needed because both the doors and hearts are always wide open.

I find Soviet doors to be the most beautiful. They are often painted yoghurt-like or bright colors as if to symbolize summer. You cannot confuse them with anything else. Now, such doors are not as numerous as before since construction works are carried out chaotically in Tashkent. The owners of public and private territories favor new residential areas and there is a decreasing number of people who are eager to preserve the old look of the city.

But there are also exceptions. For example, this year the Art and Culture Development Foundation under the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Uzbekistan is taking part in the Venice Biennale of Architecture with a pavilion that has chosen the phenomenon of the mahalla as its subject. So, I thought it was a good reason to make a text about it and invited the photographer Kamila Rustambekova (who completely shares my love of the mahalla) to take pictures of these very Soviet doors.

As it turned out, not so many people know the stories behind mahalla doors, so we have enthusiastically reconstructed them by collecting fragments of information. We started with the artisan stalls near the Chorsu bazaar where craftsmen shared with us the origin of the interesting word “hasham,” translated from Old Uzbek as “aesthetics.” If translated literally, it means the soul and creativity that the “usto” (the master) puts into his creation. The doors also represent the style of a particular artisan. 

Kamilla Akhmedova
Stylist from Tashkent, founder of 7/1 bureau. She has worked as an editor for Uzbek magazines and currently organizes public talks on fashion and consults with local brands to help them improve.
Kamila Rustambekova
Kamila Rustambekova is a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Her work has been featured in publications such as i-D, Calvert, Buro Kazakhstan, Novastan, Bird in Flight, and Klassiki. She has participated in exhibitions including "Baesianz presents KIN" at the Guts Gallery in London, UK, and the "New East Festival: A Celebration of Contemporary Photography" at IDEAL Barcelona in Spain, among others. Kamila is a member of Women Photograph since 2023.