Baku exhibition “Suns and Neons Above Kazakhstan” explores the conceptual and queer strategies of the post-Soviet generation of Kazakh artists.

“Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan” is curated by Suad Garayeva and Björn Geldhof, and is on display at YARAT Contemporary Art Centre in Baku until 29 October 2017.

Erbossyn Meldibekov, 'The Sack', 2002, Print on photo paper, 50x50 cm, 32x45 cm Edition 2/4+1 AP. Image courtesy the artist.

Erbossyn Meldibekov, ‘The Sack’, 2002, print on photo paper, 50 x 50 cm, 32 x 45 cm, Edition 2/4+1 AP. Image courtesy the artist.

“Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan” is a group exhibition that surveys a range of artistic practices emerging from Kazakhstan in the 1990s and early 2000s, running at YARAT in Baku until 29 October 2017. This was a generation defined by their distance from the national art movements which since the 1930s had been configured and centralised by Soviet Union school of aesthetics and a direct relationship to Moscow. According to the exhibition’s press release,

They are the new “city kids”, aware of global networks and social media, resisting con nement and societal designations around them. Their concerns are much more individual and their works draw from both illusions and disillusionments, hope and disappointments of life entrapped within the city.

The artists in the exhibition include: Said Atabekov, Bakhyt Bubicanova, Asel Kadyrkhanova, Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay, Gaisha Madanova, Erbossyn Meldibekov, Almagul Menlibayeva, Nurakhmet Nurbol, Rustam Khalfin, Suinbike Sulimanova, Alexander Ugay, Maria Vilkoviskaya and Ruth Jenrbekova, Yelena Vorobyeva and Viktor Vorobyev.

Maria Vilkoviskaya and Ruth Jenrbekova Documentation of different performances, 2011-2016 Mixed Media. Installation view at "Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan" at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, 2017.

Maria Vilkoviskaya and Ruth Jenrbekova, documentation of different performances, 2011-2016, mixed media. Installation view at “Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan” at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, 2017.

Conceptualist tactics in the context of post-colonial Central Asia

A main focus of the exhibition is the way in which the post-soviet union generation of young artists sought to critique, deconstruct and move beyond romantic paradigms of a ‘national art’, seeking myriad and multiple projects of self- and collective production deployed in the context of a “post-colonial” central Asian region.

Maria Vilkoviskaya is a poet, musician, performer and curator. She is co-founder of fake art-institution named Creolex Centr and works together with her partner and fellow artist and poet Ruth Jenrbekova. Their inventive strategies (which the pair have activated across artists, academic and activist spaces) merits a necessary re-reading of the occidentalised histories of queer art, academic and activist practices. Working in the context of Kazakhstan, the artists offer one of the most effective critiques of institutional and social exclusion as a symptom of globalised capitalism.

A documentation of one of their performance works made in relation to the “Creolex Centr” can be seen in the video below.

Click here to watch the performance production at Creolex Centr on YouTube

Maria Vilkoviskaya and Ruth Jenrbekova have dedicated over a decade to collaborative art practices. The curators of “Sun and Neons Above Kazakhstan” have rightly dedicated an entire exhibition hall to documentation of the seminal performance work of this artist duo, including documentation of such works as Post-Family In the Light of Institutional Critique (2016) and Mediagymnastics (2014). Their powerful work similarly warrants a necessary rupturing and expansion of the geography and geopolitics of the narrations of queer academic, activist and artistic work.

Said Atabekov Flags, 2011-2016 Cotton, textile Variable dimension. Installation view at "Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan" at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and YARAT.

Said Atabekov, ‘Flags’, 2011-2016, cotton, textile, dimensions variable. Installation view at “Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan” at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and YARAT.

Said Atabekov is a founding member of Transavangarde and Kyzyl Traktor (Red Tractor), the avant-garde artistic group founded in Central Asia during Perestroika. Atabekov’s series “Flags” explores possible utopian alternatives to the banalities of national flag waving. In an early 1991 work in the series entitled “KORPESHE-FLAGS”, the artist photographs a woman holding a korpeshe, a traditional form of Central Asian textile, which serves a dual function of mattress and blanket in the tents of nomads. The material bears the images of various national flags. By intervening in the production process of the flag, the artist seeks to bring the construction of national identity from elite to public spheres, pitting identity as a contested space of negotiation.

Erbossyn Meldibekov 'Transformer', 2013 Beech, pine, Variable dimensions Edition 2/3+1 AP. Image courtesy the artist. Installation view at "Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan" at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and YARAT.

Erbossyn Meldibekov, ‘Transformer’, 2013, beech, pine, dimensions variable, Edition 2/3+1 AP. Installation view at “Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan” at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and YARAT.

Erbossyn Meldibekov is also known for complex politicised works that seek to demystify the paternalistic and colonial ideologies that dominate representation of the Central Asia region. Much of his recent work focuses on examining the links between the post-9/11 moment and how the mediatised political crisis has effected social relations and culture in the region. He often makes innovative links between key narrations in the history of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and Central Asia’s past conquests. The nucleus of his work is in an investigation of how these state and regional narratives are expressed via a network of “heroic” monuments placed strategically throughout the region.

In the current exhibition is the artist’s seminal 2013 work Transformer (2013), in which the viewer is invited to create his own monument. The artwork references a particular statue in Uzbekistan that has been modified ten times in the past hundred years. Focusing on this state organised practice of “editing” the statue, the artist explores how shifting ideologies are marked in the city in an act that also highlights and affirms the malleability of historical narrative.

Bakhyt Bubicanova, 'Kazakh Imperial Art', 2017, Photoprint on penacardon Each 10 x 15 cm Edition 1/3. Image courtesy the artist. Commissioned by YARAT.

Bakhyt Bubicanova, ‘Kazakh Imperial Art’, 2017, photoprint on penacardon, each 10 x 15 cm, Edition 1/3. Commissioned by YARAT. Image courtesy the artist.

Bakhyt Bubicanova (b. 1985) eschews nostalgia with her critical explorations of Central Asia’s nomadic traditions and crafts as they negotiate and intervene in the so-called post-colonial and post-industrial era. The artist’s 2017 work Kazakh Imperial Art takes up a myriad set of strategies from the fields of sexual dissidence, feminist performance and the self-portrait tradition in order to make cutting critiques of the hypocrisy of the history of state controlled cultural sphere in the era of globalisation.

In the 1999 exhibition “Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s” organised by Uruguayan conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer at New York’s Queens Museum of Art, the artist and critic called for a simultaneous rupture and re-reading of the dominant Anglo-American focused art histories of conceptual art. At that time, he coined the term “conceptualisms” to name the myriad strategies of political and cultural critique emerging from across the world in the 1960s and 1970s, often in the circumstances of dictatorships and colonial domination. The current exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Radical Black Women 1965 -1985”, on display at the Brooklyn Museum until 17 September 2017, further chips away at the whitened histories of conceptual art and performance art.

Bakhyt Bubicanova, 'Pery', 2012-2013, Photo collage, digital print, Each 123 x 82 cm, Edition 1/5. Image courtesy the artist.

Bakhyt Bubicanova, ‘Pery’, 2012-2013, photo collage, digital print, 123 x 82 cm each, Edition 1/5. Image courtesy the artist.

Perhaps “Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan” is making similar moves: in providing a number of historical cases from the 1990s to the present in which Kazakstan-based artists engage in transdisciplinary and research-based modes of production, the exhibition visibilises the innovation and inventiveness of Kazakstan’s critical artists, initiating again a rupture and deterritorialisation of that tired old story of conceptual art.

Rebecca Close


Related Topics: Kazakhstani artists, photography, video, museum showsevents in Baku

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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