Kazakhstan: No Silk Way 

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Kazakhstan

The new capital Astana, designed by the Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, is today the symbol of a race towards the future that appears unstoppable, thanks to the country’s huge oil and mineral reserves. Imago Mundi asked 140 contemporary Kazakh artists to take up the challenge of the small 10x12 cm format, testifying to a complex culture in evolution. 

Basarhan Dalelkan - Golden eagle (2015)

The new Kazakhstan, with over 17 million inhabitants in an area of 2.7 million square kilometres, “with its futuristic aspirations – observes Luciano Benetton, the creator of Imago Mundi – must necessarily acknowledge the traditional culture of the steppe peoples and the symbolic power of their shamanic practices. With the works in the collection, the Kazakh artists travel, like a kind of contemporary artistic nomadism, along the border between East and West, local and global, imaginary and real. The distinctive format amplifies, more than on other occasions, the symbolic aspects of dialogue – at times of conflict – between presence and transcendence, code and transgression, aesthetics and ethics. Still aiming, however, to restore the hidden story of life to the surface of the canvas.”

Bakyt Seisenkhanuly - The ways (2015)

Kuanysh Bazargaliev - Kazakhstan gay community (Black square) (2015)

Shamil Guliev - Crucifix (2015)

“Kazakhstan is fully part of the so-called globalised world – states the curator Enrico Mascelloni – which, as elsewhere, alternates idyllic visions with more nightmarish outlooks, ideological spells and no less ideological declarations of love. Ethnic tensions can be found in the far south, where the strong Uzbek minority do not consider the region very Kazakh. Shymkent, its most important city – experiencing dazzling expansion and already home to avant-garde artistic movements and a once-thriving Academy – is, in effect, very far from Astana. That Kazakhstan has little to do with the idea, popular with retro tourists, of a rural enclave is clearly demonstrated by the almost total disappearance of the nomads. Amongst the various macro events that have taken place in recent years, it is worth noting just one seemingly minor one. This Central Asian country bore witness to one of the first attempts to give life to groups of avant-garde artists in the whole of the USSR, after the period ruled by the cast-iron grip of Socialist Realism.”

Zitta Sultanbayeva - Miss Asia (2015)

Aigerim Ospanova - Dastarkhan (2015)

Dmitriy Mussikhin - Every day with me (2015)

“But the unique aspect of the Kazakh avant-garde – continues Mascelloni - which gave it a strong collective identity, was a search for origins that not only went beyond the Soviet civilization, but also the Islamic one. As they were both deemed too cumbersome, with their universalistic precepts and their closed horizons, the search turned to the nomadic world of the steppes, the materials that rendered it possible (wood and felt in particular) and shamanism, which survived even the anti-religious rigours of the Communist Party.”

Galiya Kussainova - Vineyard date (2015)

Vadim Sidorkin - Sacrifice (2015)

Zarina Chukitayeva - Sunny day (2015)

“In their formal search of artistic expression, the Sixtiers - explains art critic Valeria Ibraeva - turned for inspiration to the history of Kazakhstan and the national ornaments, trying to create a national school of Kazakh painting. The “thematic painting”, while remaining the main component of the official exhibitions, lost its significance in the artists’ workshops, leaving its place to the still life and landscape painting, which were used as a way to search for the so called “national form”, based on studies of popular applied arts, medieval parietal art, Post-Impressionist art and Picasso, “discovered” by Soviet artists after the reorganisation of the Pushkin Museum exhibition in Moscow.”

Agyn Bapanov - Artist at work (2015)

Balkhia Kussainova - Sicilian bouquet (2015)

Zakir Ali - Boy with a baloon (2015)

Subsequently – adds Ibraeva – “after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence gained by Kazakhstan in the 1990s, the Kazakhstan artists finally gained access to all the achievements of world art. Loads of professional information being discharged upon them, the opening of the borders, the possibility of travelling abroad and visiting the most important museums and biennials of the world, the access to new technologies and the unrecognisably changed country; all this lead to the contemporary art scene of Kazakhstan becoming extremely variegated. In today’s Kazakhstan many diverse artists coexist and create their artworks: the adepts of Soviet academic art and national landscape, the followers of Picasso and Salvador Dali, the history painters who affirm the new ideology and history of their young country, the champions of the new technologies and steampunk, as well as those of neo-Marxism and feminism, artistic activism and video art.”

Syrlybek Bekbotayev - Wooden age (2015)

Asel Kalieva - Flight (2015)

Zoya Falkova - Nepal 2015 (2015)

It is a varied mosaic of styles, ideologies, methods, trends and individualisms. A vitality that is also reflected in the architectural symbols of Astana. “On one of the capital’s main boulevards – as in fact Luciano Benetton notes - stands the Bayterek Tower, a hundred-meter high structure topped by a golden sphere. Designed by British architect Norman Foster, it represents the tree of life on which Samruk, the holy bird of happiness, is seated, whose egg, according to local legend, symbolizes the sun.”

Agimsali Duzelkhanov - Urban landscape (2015)

Credits: Story

Project Management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd

Enrico Mascelloni

Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Valeria Ibraeva
Enrico Mascelloni

Editing and Translation
Robin Ambrosi, Tiziana Dandoli (Service Scibbolet)
Emma Cole
Pietro Valdatta

Art direction
Daniele Tonon

Enrico Mascelloni
Marco Zanin (artworks)

Marco Pavan

Milena Migelevna Gusman
Birlik (Unity)

Special thanks to
Fondazione Sarenco
Oksana Ignatush
Irina Machneva Mota,
Esentai Gallery- Almaty Carmine Barbaro, Centro Studi Italia – Almaty
Renato Sala e Jean Marc Dion dell’ ISPKZ Vladimir Filatov, Tengri Umai Gallery, Almaty
Domenico Carrera
Harley Faria
Valeria Ibraeva
Saule Suleymenova

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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