The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too. (Rose Schneiderman, 1911)
Rose Schneiderman was a Polish-American labour union leader and women’s rights activist who never visited Kazakhstan. Her words are invoked here because they make a poetic case for an international equality of genders, based not only on suffrage and access to the bare necessities of life, but also for common rights to culture, work and a full life, well lived. This exhibition of the work of four generations of Kazakh women artists examines how such ideas and aspirations have developed there from the late 1930s to the present.
Since 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Kazakhstan has transformed into a strategic command post at the crossroads of central Asia. From the earliest times, people, goods, ideas, religions and ideologies had flowed freely along the Silk Road. Now they begin to do so again. But the transition from nomadic steppe to bustling modern economy has been far from straightforward or happy.
From the beginning of Russian colonisation in the 19th century, Kazakhstan’s remoteness from the capital made it a suitable place for massive exile. In the soviet period, this role expanded dramatically with mass purges and the accompanying need for an ‘archipelago’ of gulags. This, with the disastrous famine that resulted from Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture in 1932/33, is still commemorated by artists, and others, in Kazakhstan as an inhumane, barbarous episode.
Anar Aubakir, Lidya Blinova, Bakhyt Bubikanova, Gania Chagatayeva, Natalia Dyu, Vera Ermolaeva, Zoya Falkova, Aisha Galimbaeva, Tatiana Glebova, Gulfairus Ismailova, Kreolex Zentr (Maria Vilkovisky & Ruthie Jenrbekova), Gaisha Madanova, Aigerim Mazhitkhan, Almagul Menlibayeva, Gulnur Mirzagalikova, Gulnur Mukazhanova, Katya Nikonorova, Saule Suleimenova, Gulmaral Tatibayeva and Lena Vorobyeva
Despite the suppression of national identity, the awakening of national imagination reached a head in December 1986 when mass demonstrations of Kazakh students flared in Almaty, quickly spreading throughout the country. The security forces arrested and killed a large but unconfirmed number of people. Reference to this is also made in art.The exhibition focuses on how themes and motifs from Kazakh history and culture have combined with those of modernity in a present-day critique of colonial and patriarchal values.
Its first section examines the legacy of the classical Russian avant-garde, repressed by Stalin, as well as of folk art, its Kazakh doppelgänger. It is followed, during the 1950s and ‘60s, by the emergence of the first generation of Kazakh women artists to work within the system of socialist realism, acting and designing for film and theatre as well as making paintings.
The present is intimated by the reawakening of autonomous, non-official art in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s by people who struggled to establish a new sense of identity out of the ruins of the past. The last section, from 2005 to the present, concentrates on the birth of a new generation of independently-minded contemporary artists, more concerned with the present than the past, working across many different media in the cities of Almaty, Karaganda and Astana, the new capital.
– David Elliott
25 Sept. - 20 Oct. 2018
@ MOMENTUM + Studio 1 Kunstquartier Bethanien Mariannenplatz 2, 10997 Berlin
Gulfairus: the works of Gulfairus Ismailova (2018)
Commissioned by State Astana Museum
AISHA: the works of Aisha Galimbaeva (2018)
Commissioned by State Astana Museum