To get an idea about the Kazakhstan contemporary art scene we asked eight competent people of art for some insights. Dina Baitassova, founder of IADA International Art Development Association, Galina Koretskaya, specialist on questions of development and cultural policy in Almaty Mayor’s Office Department of Culture, artists Galim Madanov, Zauresh Terekbay, and Almagul Menlibayaeva, independent curator and artist Gaisha Madanova, Igor Sludskiy, head of the public association “Eurasian Cultural Alliance” and organizer of the contemporary art festival ArtBatFest in Almaty, and the young filmmaker Malik Zenger talk about the artists to follow and what is happening in contemporary culture in Kazakhstan.
Interesting contemporary Kazakh artists
Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay: It would seem a very simple question, but it is very difficult to answer due to the fact that the contemporary art scene in Kazakhstan defies logical consistency and analysis in general. If in the beginning of the 90s it began to grow, by 2000 everything had already stopped. The artists determined in the late 90s are very active, they work with contemporary art, present on international platforms, and represent the contemporary art scene of Kazakhstan. The movement toward development is very slow because in the last 20 years there is no system with institutions that could build up strategies, communication, capital turnover, and exports and imports of contemporary art in our region. The one-time infusion only exacerbated the system of the mediation and allocation of funds in the “one hand”, which destroyed the idea of the development and formation of the artistic environment and alienated most of the younger generation. Today like ten years ago, the interesting and international artists are: Almagul Menlibayeva, Said Atabekov, artist group “Kyzyl Tractor” and Arystan Shalbaev. These are artists who use ethnic components representing the “roots” of the region’s culture, which is exotically attractive to foreign audiences. The works of artists like Erbossyn Meldibekov, Nurbossyn Orys, Rashid Nurekeev, and Ainabek Ospanov represent the “mutating post-Soviet era”, showing the metamorphosis of a new market layer formed on the old Soviet base.
Speaking of our works, we examine the state of society against the new environment and the historical background, which became the basis for the changes that have occurred and influenced what we have now.
It should be noted that a new generation of artists is developing already: Syrlybek Bekbotaev, Ayatgali Tuleubek, Malik Zenger (filmmaker and artist), Gaisha Madanova, Gulnur Mukazhanova, Camille Kurmanbekova, Tansik Mazhitova, Valery Kaliev, Bakhit Bubikanova, Roman Zakharov, and Nurjan Sautbekov. They are artists who are not limited to one genre or style, who experiment with various techniques, and expand local thematic boundaries of art.
We are very happy about the fact that there are many young people from our country studying abroad in art schools, learning innovations, and living in a very active cultural environment – that will positively affect and change the situation in contemporary art of Kazakhstan in the future.
Almagul Menlibayaeva: Maslov Sergei (1952–2002), Rustam Khalfin (1947–2007), Moldagul Narymbetov (1948–2012). Actively working: Yerbol Meldibekov, Georgy Tryakin Bucharov, Elena and Victor Vorobevi, Askhat Akhmediyarov, Alesandr Ugai, artsists from the group Kyzyl Traktor – who work together and individually as well – Said Atabekov, Smail Bayaliev, Vitaly Simakov, Arystan Shalabaev, and the young artist Syrlybek Bekbotaev.
Dina Baitassova: Almagul Menlibayeva, artist duo Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay, Askhat Akhmediyarov, Said Atabekov, and Yerbol Meldibekov are among the most famous contemporary artists. Most of them have been represented by European galleries for quite a long time such as Laura Bullian, Jozsa Gallery, or Rossi&Rossi. Among emerging artists I really appreciate the work of Ada Yu, who lives in Paris now, Gulnur Mukazhanova in Berlin, and Bakhyt Bubikanova and Syrlybek Bekbotayev in Almaty.
Igor Sludskiy: You can find all the names in the Face of the Bride catalogue, an exhibition of the most famous and interesting Kazakh artists. It was the very first exhibition of contemporary art from Kazakhstan in Russia after Perestroika. The exhibition took place in PERMM museum for contemporary art. I would add several names such Smail Bayaliyev, Syrlybek Bekbotayev, Katerina Nikanorova, and Ashat Akhmediarov.
Galina Koretskaya: I have the same answer as Igor. There is a very small circle of contemporary artists, most of them based in Almaty.
Gaisha Madanova: Almagul Menlibayeva, Erbolsyn Meldibekov, Said Atabekov, Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay, Alexandr Ugai, Gulnur Mukazhanova, Ada Yu, Bahyt Bubikanova, Aleksei Shindin, Ayatgali Tuleubek, Askhat Ahmediyarov, Saule Suleimenova, and Kuanish Bazargaliev.
Who are other creatives to look out for?
Gaisha Madanova: Music: Edil Husainov, Kuat Sheldebaev, Marat Bisengaliev. From a new wave I would mark Akmaral Zykayeva (Mergen), collective Buhar Jerreau, Galymzhan Moldanazar, and the group Anomaliya. Rustam Ospanov (DJ and director of International Musical JAZZYSTAN Festival) https://vimeo.com/75553173
Almagul Menlibayaeva: Film directors: Yermek Tursunov, Gulshat Omarova, Emir Baigazin. Literature: Serikbol Kondzbai (1968–2004), Zira Nauryzbaeva, Radik Temergaliev, Nurlan Dulatbekov’s series of books about Karlag (research of the history of the Gulag in Kazkahstan during Stalin’s political repression), Uralkhan Bukeev, Mukhtar Auezov, Auezkhan Kodar, and the poet and translator of philosophy from French to Kazakh and Russian Zhanat Bajmukhametov.
Galina Koretskaya: Theatre: Art&Shock is a small company with a venue with a capacity of about 60 seats. This is the only professional independent theatre in Almaty, and I believe in whole country. As for movies I should mention three interesting works: “Kelin” by the director Ermek Tursunov, “Tulpan” by Sergei Dvortsevoy, and a recent success in Kazakh filmmaking “Harmony Lessons” by Emir Baigazin. We are not strong in contemporary choreography, just two small companies: the Dance Theatre of Gabbasov Sisters and Samruk Dance Company. http://youtu.be/S3SUlqUvjVU
Igor Sludskiy: Theater Youth Festival Otkrovenie.
Malik Zenger: There are not so many of them, it is a very small community, but here are some names: the young actor Chingiz Kapin, who works in an experimental theatre; the young contemporary artist Galym Kairalapov, who is also creating lamps; modern designer Zhanar Serikpaeva; documentary filmmaker Yekaterina Suvorova; synth-pop singer Galymzhan Moldanazr; writer, poet, and film director Erbol Zhumagul; the Kazakh actor Sanzhar Madiyev; the editor-in-chief of www.kult.kz and co-founder of Nedelka project Timur Nusimbekov, who is curating the exhibition “ART OF YOU”.
Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay: We think that our opinions cannot be objective because when we work on our projects we are a little bit isolated from the scene. We could only name a few people who we met or worked with. Directors: Serik Aprymov, Darezhan Omirbayev, Nariman Turebaev, Ermek Tursunov, Emir Baygazin, Sergey Dvortsevoy, Adilkhan Yerzhanov, Akan Satayev. Composers : Kuat Shildebaev, Erkesh Shukeyev. Singer and musician Batyr (Batyrkhan Shukenov), the artist Edil Khousainov, and ethnic music group “Urker”.
Dina Baitassova: I’m really happy to see some new works by film-makers such as Darezhan Omirbayev with “The Student”, a film based on the novel by Dostoyevski, which I saw in a Paris cinema recently. Emir Baygazin’s “The Harmony Lessons” is a beautiful movie as well. I really love the energy of the new creative generation, such as Damir Otegen, Malik Zenger, Gaisha Madanova, and Suibike Suleimenova.
Where else can one find contemporary art in Kazakhstan?
Gaisha Madanova: In Kazakhstan there are not so many specific places where you can find contemporary art. In Almaty, for example, there are plenty of galleries, which are sometimes used for exhibitions of contemporary art. You just need to keep track of events. There is only one gallery, Tengri Umai, which positions itself as a contemporary art gallery. L.E.S – “local experimental space” – hosts various lectures, discussions, meetings, and exhibitions. Every summer in Almaty the international contemporary art festival ARTBAT Fest takes place, which traditionally is situated on the walking street Arbat, but every year it is expanding and occupying new places in the city. A place where it is often possible to meet artists and other creative figures on Friday and Saturday nights is Chukotka Bar. In Astana there is no space that would define themselves with the contemporary art; the exception are the exhibitions that sometimes take place in the Palace of Independence.
Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay: In our opinion, the Almaty Goethe institute is the most active at the moment. They organize a lot of cultural and art events: photo and fine art exhibitions, ballet and theater performances, film screenings with discussions, readings, French Alliance, and – most importantly – they support young creative professionals (helping to organize workshops, etc). Lately the cultural department of Almaty has become very active, they take part in organizing and supporting the ArtBatFest. Esentai Art Reality took place in an area of the shopping center Esentai Mall and all art objects created during the festival were given to the parks and gardens of Astana. The main topic of the festival was the interrelation between art and fashion. NEDELKA PROJECT: In the last two years the art initiative has gained power. It is an independent art platform formed by the group of the young intellectuals Timur Nusimbekov and Asel Yeszhanova, who realize projects in the following seven disciplines: visual art, architecture and design, literature, cultural studies / philosophy, music, youth initiatives, and anthropological auditorium. They are actively engaged in the project, organize analytical and educational activities, and are creating an information base on contemporary youth culture in Kazakhstan.
Igor Sludskiy: The main contemporary art activities are only in several small galleries such as Beliy Royal, Tengry Umai Gallery, and Modern Art Center “Kulanshi”. Also sometimes businessmen buy contemporary art objects and install them in public places http://forbes.kz/life/style/kulturnyie_investitsii_v_gorod. And, of course, our festival (ArtBatFest) is biggest event in this sphere.
Galina Koretskaya: We struggle to have a center for contemporary art, not just a gallery but a creative space consisting of different genres of art. My inspiration for this project is Moscow’s National Center for Contemporary Art. At the moment there are just those galleries Igor has mentioned in his answers, Art and Shock (because they work as a small center of contemporary art doing exhibitions, readings, etc). During the ArtBat festival the center of Almaty becomes an open-air platform for contemporary art. This is all, I guess.
Dina Baitassova: The ArtBatFest, which is held every year at the end of August, is the best period to discover the art scene in different places at the same time with public art, performances, and independent shows. This year it promises to be particularly interesting with international dialogue between European and local artists. Otherwise, there is the State Museum of Kasteev, where you can sometimes find contemporary art exhibitions, or the Esentai Mall, which opened a few art spaces recently such as the Atmosthere Art Space and the B2A project. In Astana the Pyramid and Khan Shatyr Center are interesting to visit. This autumn a huge Museum of History and Art will also open its doors.
Malik Zenger: You can meet a lot of hip and creative people at the Chukotka, Dacha Bar, and Raketa Bar in Almaty.
What is needed for contemporary life in Kazakhstan?
Dina Baitassova: The fact is that there is no real infrastructure for the art scene, it is primarily independent initiatives that cooperate. There are not so many galleries, spaces, or institutions. I think there definitely should be more space for the creative art cluster.
Galina Koretskaya: We need a venue and an institution that can be a constant platform for the development of contemporary art; to demonstrate best pieces of work, to have educational programs, art residencies, professional art managers. Almaty is full of great ideas and to realize them we don’t even need that much money. What we need is a professional space (venue) and managers’ hands to handle good marketing and logistics. It’s slowly getting better in the last 2 or 3 years, but we still have a long way ahead of us.
Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay: Integration, financing, collaboration , education, experience on international markets, the creation or formation of a structure – from education, management, and creating exhibition spaces to logistics, promotion, advertising, etc. As an alternative: import professionals and existing functioning structures from abroad. And most importantly the development of the audience, the desire and the ability of society to perceive innovation, to generate a need for these innovations because misunderstanding causes a feeling of inferiority and forces people to close up or feel nostalgic about the past.
Gaisha Madanova: In the local art scene active movements have emerged in the last two or three years after several years of silence. I think we need local independent institutions in the field of contemporary art as well as investment in contemporary art. More local educational programs in the field of contemporary art, the publication of periodicals in the form of art magazines, good art events to build up the art community, the creation of a constant platform.
Almagul Menlibayaeva: In my opinion, Kazakhstan contemporary life needs to stimulate Kazakh contemporary art collectors to articulate their imporatant role in building up Kazakh contemporary culture as well as the local art market and worldwide cultural dialogue. Education in the contemporary art for the young artist generation and children is important, too. Great art needs an audience, so educational programs are needed for the audience. Museums of contemporary art in Almaty and Astana, we just don’t have them yet.