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We're a team of eight artists, curators and critics with a broader network of art professionals on the post-soviet, post-communist and diasporic spaces. With our ability to grasp, to describe and to invert the sensable, we might be your best collaborator.

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Mission

 

TransitoryWhite is a journal of overlapping, multi-voiced accounts documenting peripheral artistic productions.

The project was launched in 2017 by a group of curators, art specialists and artists from Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia living in Berlin/Vienna. 

We aimed to create an intersectional platform for discussing decolonization, post-neoliberalism trauma and the possibility of dispersive views on the so-called post-communist territories.

Since 2019, the platform has also operated in the trajectories of migrant and post-displacement discourse, expanding its activities from the geographical pole "East" to the global. In response to the growing nationalistic discourse, it is crucial for our investigation to represent artists and theorists with different identities and ideas for the future. In this way, TransitoryWhite emphasizes the productive interaction between different multitudes rather than dualities. 

TransitoryWhite understands whiteness as a metaphor for colonialism, or as a white, self-contained exhibition space where the hierarchy of discourses and images is prejudiced. Instead, we turn to the idea of White Noise; a signal or constant disturbance, something cacophonic, turbulent and restless which fluctuates and transforms our perspectives.

Contributors

Laura Arena

Laura Arena is a Level 3 Reiki practitioner certified and licensed in the state of New York. She's a graduate of the Art of Energetic Healing School located in Manhattan with spiritual teacher and master healer Suzy Meszoly. Next to being a Level 3 Reiki practitioner, Laura is a multidisciplinary artist, activist, designer, and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. Arena’s work encompasses photography, video, installation, writing, and social interventions with a focus on storytelling, human rights causes, gameplay, race, and identity. She has exhibited in galleries and festivals worldwide and has participated in events in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Arena has attended residencies and workshops in Greenland, Iceland, Romania, Hungary, Palestine, Turkey, and the United States. 

In 2021 she will be mapping the Chakras of Berlin as an artist in resident at Z/KU (Center for Art and Urbanistics).

Read her article: CHAKRAS OF TBILISI

Ina Hildebrandt

Ina Hildebrandt is an art historian and cultural journalist. Born in Kazakhstan, she grew up as a so-called Russian-German in the south of Germany. After spending years of total assimilation she developed a strong interest in her cultural roots. Several long travels and stays took her to Easter-Europe over Russia to Central-Asia. Thereby she started to focus more on those regions also as art historian and journalist. She lives and works in Berlin. 

Read her articles and interviews: ON THE LOOP

Anna Kamay

Anna Kamay is an independent curator and cultural manager hailing from Yerevan, Armenia. Anna organizes community-based art projects with the goal of using public space and art to meet local needs and manages Nest Artist Residency and Community Center at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Yerevan.

Read her article: JUGGLING DINOSAURS, 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Victoria Kravtsova

Victoria Kravtsova has studied International Relations in St. Petersburg and Berlin. In Berlin she is active in NGO projects in Eastern Europe, co-organizing seminars and exchange programs in the fields of environment, human rights, gender equality and civic education. Victoria receives a scholarship from Heinrich Böll Foundation and is engaged in writing her thesis “Between the ‘posts’, out of the void” where she traces the travels of the contemporary feminist discourses to and from Central Asia.

Read her articles and interviews: EMBRACE YOUR ANTITHESIS, WANDERING POETICS OF CENTRAL ASIAN MESTIZAS, WHERE THE ROSES GROW, Interview with Madina Tlostanova Part I and  Part II

Daria Prydybailo

Daria Prydybailo is a curator, researcher, founder of the TRSHCHN platform and co-founder of the NGO Art Matters Ukraine. Her background includes +7 years in leading cultural institutions of Ukraine such as National museum complex Art Arsenal and CCA PinchukArtCentre, as well as independent curatorial practice with a strong focus on the body in contemporary art, sensual turn, sound art, and in-situ projects. She worked on large-scale international projects such as International forum Art Kyiv, the First Kyiv Biennale of contemporary art ARSENALE 2012, and Ukrainian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. During 2013-2015 she curated online-platform & collective of artists, curators and writers  (wo)manorial, who contemplate the ever-changing concept of femininity. Her latest research is focused on love and intimacy in the context of emotional capitalism. Originally from Kyiv currently she lives and works in Berlin. 

Read her article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Thibaut de Ruyter

Thibaut de Ruyter is a French curator and critic who lives and works in Berlin since 2001. In the last ten years, he has organized exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Bochum, Museum Kunstpalais Düsseldorf, Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt, HMKV in Dortmund, EIGEN + ART Lab and CTM in Berlin, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź and CRP / in Douchy-les -Mines. One of his latest projects is a travelling exhibition co-curated with Inke Arns for the Goethe-Institut: The Frontier that calls into question the dividing line between Asia and Europe in the former Soviet states. Since 2017 this exhibition has been exhibited in St Petersburg, Moscow, Tashkent, Almaty, Krasnoyarsk (u.A.) and will open in Erevan in May 2019. His areas of interest range from new media to spiritualism to "exhibitions that are not exhibitions". Most of his projects are related to everyday, pop or underground culture. He has been the German correspondent for the French magazine artpress since 2003.

Read his articles: EAST WIND - ART IN THE FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS, UNFORTUNATELY, WE CANNOT PAY FOR YOUR FLIGHT AND ACCOMMODATION, ARTIST PORTRAIT: ALISA BERGER

Asli Samadova

Asli Samadova is a Milan/Baku-based curator and museum specialist experienced working with leading cultural institutions in Europe and the USA on cultural diplomacy, education and exhibition projects. She is the founder of Ta(r)dino 6 alternative art space that promotes contemporary art from Azerbaijan and beyond and is a platform for experiments. Ta(r)dino 6 Venice project brought Turandokht. Radio Riddles to Venice and was the first to present contemporary art from Azerbaijan in a non-institutional environment during the 58th Venice Biennial 2019.

Read her articles: WHEN THERE ARE NO OPPUTURNITIES, CREATE YOUR OWN GIARDINI, INTERIORS, 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Saltanat Shoshanova

Saltanat Shoshanova is currently pursuing her Master's degree in History of Arts at the Free University Berlin. Her research interests include art in connection to queer and feminist theory, queer migration, decoloniality and post-Soviet space. She is an activist and co-organized several queer feminist conferences in Vienna and Berlin.

Read her article: ON LANGUAGE OF SUPREMACY: MEDINA BAZARGALI IN CONVERSATION, 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Julia Sorokina

Yuliya Sorokina is freelance curator of contemporary art, lecturer, tutor, author of texts, lives and works in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Born in 1965 in Shchuchinsk (Kazakhstan) In 1987 graduated from the Artistic-drawing faculty of the Kazakh Pedagogical Institute named after Abai (Almaty). In 1992 she also completed post-graduate course in cinematology at the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (Moscow) and courses in art-management in 1998-1999 at European Summer Academy for Culture & Management (Salzburg) and at Institut fur Kulturwissenschaft (Vienna) Austria. Since 1999 she is chair-person of the Board of “Asia Art+” Public Foundation, which she co-founded in 1996. Major exhibitions & projects 2007 - “Muzykstan: Media generation of contemporary artists from Central Asia”. Central Asia Pavilion at the 52. INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA. Associazione Culturale Spiazzi, Venice, Italy (Commissioner and curator) 2007 – Central Asian Project.

Read her article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Antonina Stebur

Antonina Stebur is eine Kuratorin und Forscherin. Studium der Bild- und Kulturwissenschaften an der European Humanities University (Vilnius, Litauen) und an der School of Engaged Art der Kunstgruppe “Chto Delat?” (Sankt Petersburg, Russland). Sie ist Mitglied der Künstlergruppe #damaudobnayavbytu (“Frau, die bequem im Alltag ist”), die die feministische Agenda im russischen und weisrussischen Kontext untersucht. Sie war Kuratorin einer Reihe von Ausstellungen in Belarus, Russland, Polen, Frankreich und China. Ihre Forschungsgebiete und kuratorischen Interessen sind: Gemeinschaft, Um-Zusammenstellung alltäglicher Praktiken, feministische Kritik, neue Sensibilität, Basisinitiativen.

Read her articles: ICH LIEBE DICH!, ANOTHER PRODUCTION DRAMA, МЫ СЁННЯ ЗНАХОДЗІМСЯ Ў ІНШАЙ ВЫТВОРЧАЙ ДРАМЕ, 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Annika Terwey

Annika Terwey is a German-Italian new media designer & artist. She studied visual communication at the Berlin University of the Arts and graduated from the new media class. In her work, she is exploring new forms of communication through interaction design, video installation and exhibitions. Her interest range from environmental science, new technologies and human perception.

Read her article: ON LANGUAGE OF SUPREMACY: MEDINA BAZARGALI IN CONVERSATION

Alex Ulko

Alexey Ulko was born in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) in 1969. After graduating form Samarkand University with a diploma in English he obtained an MEd TTELT degree from the University of St Mark and St John (UK). Since 2003 he has been working as a freelance consultant in English, Culture Studies and Art for various cultural organisations. Has been making experimental films since 2007 and is an active writer about Central Asian contemporary art. His current artistic interests: experimental cinema, photography, visual poetry. Member of the European Society for Central Asian Studies, the Association of Art Historians (UK) and the Central Eurasian Studies Society (USA).

Read his article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE, THE SHIFT OF THE PARADIGM IN MODERN CENTRAL ASIAN ART

Lolisanam Ulug

Lola Ulugova (Lolisanam) has been an activist in Tajikistan since 2000. Her last working assignment as an Arts and Social Activism Program Coordinator at Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation (OSIAF) in Tajikistan, 2014-2019, was a recognition of her skills and passion towards development of the Tajik youth, arts and activism at a professional level. She also was the founding director of Tajik Bio-Cultural Initiatives a non-governmental organization dedicated to Tajik arts and environmental issues. In 2013, she wrote and produced the nation's first 3-D animation film, a short designed to promote awareness of environmental issues among children. Previously, she has produced several cultural DVDs archiving Tajik dance and biocultural diversity; was a Field Production Manager on the documentary Buzkashi! By Najeeb Mirza (Canada); from 1999-2005 was the manager of Gurminj Museum, an important musical instrument museum in Dushanbe; has been involved in the administration of multiple government and NGO research projects and publications in Tajikistan; and has been the organizer of several important art exhibitions. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Turin, Italy and an undergraduate degree in Russian Language and Literature. She was a Global Cultural Fellow at the Institute for International Cultural Relations of the University of Edinburgh during academic year 2017-18 and participated in Central Asian-Azerbaijan (CAAFP) fellowship program at the George Washington University at Elliott School of International affairs for Fall 2019.
She has co-produced “After the Curtain” documentary along with Emelie Mahdavian (USA), covering the intimate stories of a few Tajik women dancers, also a “Youth for Laws Supremacy” performance that indicated her protest torture and violence.

Read her article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Katharina Wiedlack

Katharina Wiedlack is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Department of English and American Studies, Humboldt University Berlin. Her research fields are primarily queer and feminist theory, popular culture, postsocialist, decolonial and disability studies. Currently, she is working on a research project focused on the construction of Russia, LGBTIQ+ issues and dis/ability within Western media. http://katharinawiedlack.com

Read her article: IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO MAKE FILMS QUEERLY THAN TO MAKE QUEER FILMS

People

Ina Hildebrandt

Ina Hildebrandt is an art historian and cultural journalist. Born in Kazakhstan, she grew up as a so-called Russian-German in the south of Germany. After spending years of total assimilation she developed a strong interest in her cultural roots. Several long travels and stays took her to Easter-Europe over Russia to Central-Asia. Thereby she started to focus more on those regions also as art historian and journalist. She lives and works in Berlin. 

Irina Konyukhova

Ira Konyukhova is an artist, writer, curator, feminist activist and the founder of TransitoryWhite. In her practice, she explores the connection between female sexuality, pop-resilience, death as well as colonial technological practices. As an artist, her works have been presented on various international festivals and exhibitions, including DocLisboa, Athens Biennale, Teneriffa Espacio del Arte, Exground Film Festival e.t. Her latest article on the early 2000s Russian lesbian stars T.a.T.u. And their influence on queer politics has been recently published by Pop-Zeitschrift by University Siegen. Ira was a grantee of BS Projects Artist-in-Residence scholarship Programm and lives and works in Berlin.

Pavel Metelitsyn

Pavel Metelitsyn is a software engineer and developer focusing on interactive data presentation, user interfaces and web technologies. He is driven by the idea of making the information more accessible through interactivity and gamification. Working together with creative agencies he implemented interactive multimedia stations for Neues Historisches Museum, Frankfurt/Main, made a kiosk app for a permanent exhibition at Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Frankfurt/Main. Besides that, he works with a wide range of clients from FinTech Startups to national research institutions, helping them to collect, process and present the business information. Pavel holds an M.Sc. in Mathematics.

Daria Prydybailo

Daria Prydybailo is a curator, researcher, founder of the TRSHCHN platform and co-founder of the NGO Art Matters Ukraine. Her background includes +7 years in leading cultural institutions of Ukraine such as National museum complex Art Arsenal and CCA PinchukArtCentre, as well as independent curatorial practice with a strong focus on the body in contemporary art, sensual turn, sound art, and in-situ projects. She worked on large-scale international projects such as International forum Art Kyiv, the First Kyiv Biennale of contemporary art ARSENALE 2012, and Ukrainian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. During 2013-2015 she curated online-platform & collective of artists, curators and writers  (wo)manorial, who contemplate the ever-changing concept of femininity. Her latest research is focused on love and intimacy in the context of emotional capitalism. Originally from Kyiv currently she lives and works in Berlin. 

Sascia Reibel

Sascia Reibel is a graphic and product designer. Her focus lays on printed matter, especially books and posters, with a strong dedication for typography. She engages in projects within the field of culture, art, and education. She studies communication design at the University of Art and Design Karlsruhe and has also studied in the design master program of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, China. Her work has been honoured with several awards, including «Most Beautiful Swiss Books», «Most Beautiful Books from all over the world», «Bronze Nail, ADC», as well as the «Badge of Typographic Excellence, TDC New York.

Kundry Reif

Kundry Reif grew up in Vienna, Austria. Whilst studying cultural studies at university in Berlin she started to work in art collectives and galleries. Last year she went to work at the Goethe Institute in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for a year. Having never heard a lot about Central Asia before, this year abroad sparked her interest. Being back now, she misses Central Asian Kurt, and has decided that her favorite museum of all times is the Sawitsky Museum in Nukus, Uzbekistan. 

Willi Reinecke

Willi Reinecke is a film director, writer, and researcher on Lev Vygotsky's Psychology of Art at the Institute for East European Studies (Freie Universität Berlin). He is teaching at Szondi-Institute for Comparative Literature and Institute for East European Studies. He worked as assistant director of the documentary film "Familienleben" which premiered at Berlinale 2018. The film was nominated for German Documentary Film Award and was awarded prizes at Saratov Sufferings Festival (RU) and Neisse Filmfestival (GER). He's currently working on documentary films for Institute of Contemporary Art Yerevan and Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V.

Thibaut de Ruyter

Thibaut de Ruyter is a French curator and critic who lives and works in Berlin since 2001. In the last ten years, he has organized exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Bochum, Museum Kunstpalais Düsseldorf, Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt, HMKV in Dortmund, EIGEN + ART Lab and CTM in Berlin, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź and CRP / in Douchy-les -Mines. One of his latest projects is a travelling exhibition co-curated with Inke Arns for the Goethe-Institut: The Frontier that calls into question the dividing line between Asia and Europe in the former Soviet states. Since 2017 this exhibition has been exhibited in St Petersburg, Moscow, Tashkent, Almaty, Krasnoyarsk (u.A.) and will open in Erevan in May 2019. His areas of interest range from new media to spiritualism to "exhibitions that are not exhibitions". Most of his projects are related to everyday, pop or underground culture. He has been the German correspondent for the French magazine artpress since 2003.

You are looking for: cultural codes  

4th February 2020

Embrace Your Antithesis

interview

Interview with Slavs and Tatars
en
Alexander Ugay Model for the Assembly, 2012 Installation, digital prints 130 x 700 cm, 175 Gallery, Seoul, 2013
Installation draws the history of Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan
Alexander Ugay Model for the Assembly, 2012 Installation, digital prints 130 x 700 cm, 175 Gallery, Seoul, 2013
Installation draws the history of Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan
Alexander Ugay Model for the Assembly, 2012 Installation, digital prints 130 x 700 cm, 175 Gallery, Seoul, 2013
Installation draws the history of Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan

Alexey Ulko argues that the paradigm shift in the modern Central Asian art, which can qualify both for post-colonial and post-Soviet discourse, presents a complex and controversial picture.

 

The end of the first decade of the 21stcentury, marked by a worldwide economic and political crisis, signalled the end of an era of many hopes in Central Asia. The major economic and cultural breakthrough to the world arena that had been expected twenty years before has by and large failed. The region is more than ever before, burdened with corruption, autocracy, nationalism and traditionalism, ethnic, class and demographic tensions (1). As the first post-Soviet generation is coming of age, the culture, art and the individual artists in the region come under various kinds of pressure to which they respond in a number of ways. I seek to demonstrate how these extrinsic forces, often based on different visions of Central Asia, provoke a range of cultural and artistic responses. I examine these interactions combining some internationally recognized narratives with my own experience as an artist and art researcher living and working in Uzbekistan. Aware of the temptations and dangers of sweeping statements and over-generalizations, I nevertheless opted to focus not only on country-specific but on region-specific issues related to the recent developments in modern art in Central Asia. I deliberately use the term ‘modern’ rather than ‘contemporary’ art to avoid confusion, as in many cases the art I discuss below cannot be classified as contemporary. In other words, I regard contemporary art as just one of the categories within a wider art world of today. 

 

There are three large groups of extrinsic influences that shape the current cultural and artistic environment in Central Asia, namely: the lingering Soviet legacy, the ethnic and traditional heritage and the demands of the modern globalised world.

Governments, public opinion, material needs, geographic and cultural peculiarities of the countries and communities, international bodies and organisations and other agents apply these kinds of pressure in various combinations. It can be argued that most local authorities in the region combine the Soviet and traditionalist approaches and pay only lip service to the contemporary international context. On the other hand, international non-governmental organisations and other donors (for example, UNESCO, Soros Foundation, Hivos and others) pursue their own global agendas (2) often rooted in the post-Soviet discourse with its interpretation of the USSR and its heritage as that of ‘the prison of nations’ and not an ‘affirmative action empire’ (3). These agendas are driven and applied by market forces, starting from economic to ideological factors. 

 

What is common to all these extremely diverse influences is their normative character. These institutions and agencies come up with agendas attempting to prescribe what ‘true’ Central Asian culture should be, often ignoring fieldwork and the analysis of what it really is. Such approaches only reinforce a range of cultural stereotypes. These, often incompatible visions of Central Asia, projected by different groups, organisations and schools of thought arbitrary separate ‘authentic’ cultural components from ‘inauthentic’, ‘progressive’ from ‘regressive’, or ‘culturally beneficial’ from ‘culturally harmful’ and effectively block the perception of the real, vibrant and complex Central Asian cultural fibre. This is not to say that the complexity of the regional culture is not sufficiently recognised or researched; on the contrary, ‘diversity’, ‘intercultural dialogue’, ‘crossroads of culture’ and other similar concepts are regularly discussed and mentioned at various international forums but often in very general, abstract and yet normative terms. Organisations often join forces with various government agencies and hold forums stating that ‘today, people need to re-think processes and effects of the cultural diversity, imagine a future, and organize desires’ (4). At the same time, they admit that they have a limited capacity to prevent the rebuilding or destruction of important cultural monuments in the region. I examine the role of international donors below and discuss the links between prescriptive approaches to cultural development and the issues of power, proximity to power and class struggle. 

Alexander Ugay Model for the Assembly, 2012 Installation, digital prints 130 x 700 cm, 175 Gallery, Seoul, 2013
Installation draws the history of Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan

Artists’ responses to these kinds of pressure can be divided into two wide and often overlapping categories: compliance and resistance, or conformity and opposition. These simple and straightforward reactions to the extrinsic pressures are deeply linked to the internal motives of every artist – that is, the search of self-identity and of public recognition. In an ideal case scenario, a successful search for the artistic self-expression is rewarded with appropriate public recognition. In an open art market, the realisation of this principle is, of course, made more complex by a wide range of different factors. In the Central Asian context, the power of the extrinsic factors almost reverses the equation. Here, and particularly in more autocratic countries, only compliance with one or another prescriptive cultural model (be it governmental, traditionalistic or multicultural) gives a chance of recognition while the search for self-identity (individual or collective) often implies the refusal to conform to these models, an opposition to the cultural benchmarks imposed from the outside. This paradoxical state of affairs and its underlying causes have to be discussed in more detail.

 

In most states of Central Asia (the only apparent exception being Kyrgyzstan) not only does the government hold the monopoly of power, but it also aspires to control and guide the spiritual life of its subjects, to decide what art is appropriate and what is not for the ideology of the state. A telling example of how far the government can go in pursuit of this kind of control is the trial of Umida Akhmedova, a well-known photographer, who was found guilty of libel and defamation against the Uzbek people for an album of documentary photos allegedly showing different ‘national traditions’ in a ‘disrespectful and mocking manner’ (5). This inhumane treatment of artists is often ridiculed in the West, where it was often seen as nothing more than a leftover of the Soviet legacy, a shadow of Communism (6). In my opinion, the Soviet legacy is not confined to the colonial influence on the centuries-long local culture. It has also been an important formative post-colonial force that shaped the development of the new national cultures in the region.

 

First of all, it is the search for one ‘true’ artistic doctrine, one paradigm which would determine what is acceptable and what is not in the art of today’s Central Asian states. This negation of plurality, so characteristic of the Soviet thinking, has some important parallels in Central Asian cultures, which I describe as diffuse, externally controlled and status-ascribing with a strong sense of “right” and “wrong”.

Alexander Ugay Model for the Assembly, 2012 Installation, digital prints 130 x 700 cm, 175 Gallery, Seoul, 2013
Installation draws the history of Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan

Paradoxically, when diversity is acknowledged, it is often linked to the concept of distinctive nationalities and ethnicities which invites comparisons to the philosophy of the apartheid rather than post-modernity. The joint UNESCO and IFESCO project Arts Education in the CIS Countries: Building Capacity for the 21stCentury supported the publication of a research paper titled Art Education in the Republic of Kazakhstan: Perception of the National Traditions and the Rapprochement of the Cultures which endorsed the officially adopted concept of ‘ethnocultural education’ in Kazakhstan (7). At best, diversity is treated as another top-down ideological dogma to be strictly adhered to.   

 

Can art be a real reflection of social processes?

 

If the need for a singular true art is common for the Soviet and the Central Asian cultural paradigms, then the Socialist concept of art as a reflection of social processes has been only partly adopted by most artists and art critics of the region. Socialist Realism was officially recognised in 1932-1934 as the singular creative method, scientifically reflecting the reality, its contents being the construction of Socialism in the context of class struggle. The problem is, as we know all too well, that ‘socialist realism’ was never a documental or realistic reflection of true social events or processes, but rather a static glorification of certain Soviet myths, sentiments and ‘achievements’. The same tendency is even more evident in the modern ‘national’ Central Asian art which includes, but is not limited to the official ideological art. In line with the Soviet nationality building programme, the mainstream art in the region continues to position itself as rooted in century-long national traditions. 

The problem is that although all Central Asian regimes made explicit statements about the need to restore the link with the past traditions, modern Central Asian cultures usually lack historic perspective and the very the sense of historic experience. History is replaced with the primordial and entirely construed ‘past’ with ‘tradition’ as its principal manifestation.

 

Artistic context of modern Central Asian art.

 

I would argue that in Russia and other post-Soviet countries culture has been seen as a universal key to and at the same an overarching paradigm for all forms of human activity, including science, religion, psychology, fine arts, philosophy, music and so on. In Central Asia, this ‘dictatorship’ is particularly intense. Individual artistic efforts, driven primarily by the search for self-identity, are viewed first of all in the context of national culture. 

Here we have all the ingredients of the modern Central Asian artistic context: the political regime that guides the development of artistic culture and the impersonal ‘attention’ and ‘reference’ to ‘the origins’ and ‘traditions’ as the only fruitful (or possible) environment for artists to discover their identity.

Now I would like to discuss the other axis of power which plays an equally major role in the class relationship in Central Asian art, i.e. international non-governmental organisations (NGO) and other donors which support so-called ‘independent art’. 

 

Viewed 20 years ago as disinterested charities aiming to help artists from developing countries to pursue their artistic goals to gain the coveted international recognition, such organisations have firmly established themselves in Central Asia as powerful players dictating their own agendas and projecting their own visions of what Central Asian art should be. In this article I do not intend to criticise or even discuss the objectives and the work of these organisations per se; instead, I would like to examine some of the effects of their interaction with the local artistic environment, which includes not only artists but other stakeholders and gatekeepers.

The attractiveness of the perspectives implicitly and openly offered by the donors combined with the relative scarcity of such resources in most Central Asian states has made a profound impact on the artistic community as a whole as well as on individuals. The work of NGOs and NGO-sponsored organisations and projects like the Bactria Centre in Dushanbe, Art & Shock theatre in Kazakhstan or the Black Box Festival in Tashkent has given a few artists an opportunity to travel and meet with their foreign colleagues, to take part in international events and projects and to contextualise their own art. This, undoubtedly positive function of NGOs and other donors in the region should be acknowledged along with the acceptance of the fact that the lure of international recognition and possible material gains have become major factors shaping not only the artistic practices in the region but the whole structure of power distribution within artistic communities. Like their counterparts in governmental agencies, the local employees of Western donors and curators of the organisations supported by them have become powerful players in the art world of the region.

Alexander Ugay Model for the Assembly, 2012 Installation, digital prints 130 x 700 cm, 175 Gallery, Seoul, 2013
Installation draws the history of Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan

Despite all the good intentions of promoting artistic development in Central Asia, the influence of foreign donors on the ethics and professional behaviour of local artists, curators and art project managers is still marked by their dominant agendas. Interestingly, the content of these agendas and the strategies employed by donors, gatekeepers and artists are changing with time. Earlier I subscribed to a somewhat simplistic view of the relationships between the axes of power, governmental and non-governmental and artistic communities. I maintained that the ruling classes represented by government ministries or large Western donors, who own both capital and at least some of the means of artistic production (i.e. theatres, galleries, printing facilities and so on) operate through networks of middle-class gatekeepers: art project managers, civil servants, gallery owners and curators. Artists, like the exploited classes in the Marxist theory, either strive for proximity to power, recognition and money; or they rebel and assert their independence and self-identity. 

 

With time, however, it became clear that this black-and-white picture of class oppression and struggle was too categorical. Firstly, with the development of the market and the widening of access to the outside world, the role of curators as gatekeepers has somewhat diminished, at least in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Their creative function should also be acknowledged and, in many cases, appreciated. Secondly, the newly recovered taste for left-wing protest has turned it into a new orthodoxy: anti-capitalist sentiment has become a fashionable and useful tool for gaining recognition and financial support which is best exemplified by the neo-Marxist School for the Theory of Activism Bishkek (STAB) propped up by Hivos, a Dutch organisation for development. This organisation runs residencies and a range of interesting educational initiatives for young contemporary artists in Kyrgyzstan, a country torn apart by serious regional, political and ethnic conflicts. Yet their primary objective is the class struggle against neo-liberals which seems to be somewhat misplaced in the current context, dominated by the threats of nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism and geopolitics. Thirdly, some oppressive measures are taken by the authorities, sometimes turn even moderate artists into protest figures which often brings about accusations of political self-promotion, as has been the case with Umida Akhmedova and Vyacheslav Akhunov from Uzbekistan or Bolat Atabaev and Kanat Ibragimov from Kazakhstan. This makes the border between conformity and protest even more blurred as many underfinanced and small grassroots groups and independent initiatives gradually acquire recognition and support which casts doubts about their status of independent artists. 

 

In all Central Asian countries (albeit to different degrees) we are witnessing the growing gap and tension between the emerging upper classes and the less educated impoverished rural and working classes. In the artistic community, the tension is focusing on the complex interaction between artists, curators, gallery owners, government officials, local and international donors and other stakeholders in the field demarcated by the two principal axes of power pursuing ‘national’ and ‘contemporary’ agendas and driven by market forces. 

 

The true Central-Asianness

 

As an artist, I do not find the motivation to pursue the goals of the primordial and entirely construed ‘national art’ or to catch up with the current practices of the contemporary art with their reactive, materialistic ‘worldliness’ particularly inspiring. I would argue that Central Asian artists will benefit if they could re-focus from superficial cultural aspirations, be it ‘national’ or ‘contemporary’ to an exploration of the deeper motives of their own creative activities. There is no need to worry about, or even worse, to strive towards the ‘true centralasiannes’: we will have to accept that any art coming from Central Asia is by definition ‘Central Asian’ in all its modernity and diversity. Neither should local artists be too concerned about being understood, accepted and rewarded by the powerful local or international stakeholders for their efforts to embrace contemporaneity where cosmopolitanism is the goal and translation is the medium. Working with an artistic idea, artists should, in David Lynch’s words, be primarily concerned whether they are being true to this idea. I believe that the accumulation of artistic value is, indeed, the best way towards self-fulfilment and, ultimately, recognition.

 

Turning to the studies and theories of art, we need to acknowledge that the conceptual gap between the authentic mainstream Central Asian art criticism and the contemporary thought is as large as it could be. The shift of the paradigm from the Soviet to the modern narrative is characterised by multifaceted and often controversial processes not always adequately identified and interpreted by external and local observers alike. The former are often still entrenched in the post-Soviet discourse and are ‘not always successful in guarding against a temptation to romanticize the “otherness” of the people they study.’ (8) In all Central Asian states, ‘the dominating cultural doctrine is the construction of the ethnocratic state’ (9), and the modern mainstream art histories, theories and criticisms only follow and support it.    

 

There is definitely a need for a more descriptive and agenda-free approach to the topic, focusing on what modern Central Asian art really is in all its diversity. The cross-cultural dimension of artistic research may be complemented by cross-disciplinary studies and some methods borrowed from sociology, cultural anthropology, hermeneutics, political studies and other disciplines to be applied to the matters of art. Perhaps, ‘participant observation’ of modern art practices and artistic communities could lead to an essentially more profound insight than post-colonial hypothesizing about what authentic Central Asian art should be. Fascination with ‘otherness’ and contemporaneity may often be as one-sided and dogmatic as the insistence on ‘national traditions’ being the only true basis for art in the region. There is a clear need for new balanced narratives linking the indigenous Central Asian tradition of art criticism and art history strengthened by reflection to a wide range of modern internationally recognised disciplines and discourses. I hope that this article is a small contribution to this necessary and inevitable dialogue.    

 

 

 

Alexey Ulko, born in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, is an artist, translator and theoretician. He graduated from Samarkand University as a teacher of the English Language and Literature and worked as a translator for the Samarkand City Council, British Council, the International Institute for Central Asian Studies and others. He contributed for a range of Central Asian arts journals and online publications such as STILLS, Kazakhstan - Kyrgyzstan; Kurak, Kyrgyzstan; ARK, Uzbekistan, and took part in a range of regional and international conferences and events. In 2007 he curated VideoART.uz, a festival of independent cinema in Tashkent. As a filmmaker himself, Alexey received awards for the best video art from the Museum of Cinema and Association of Filmmakers of Uzbekistan in 2007 and 2008. His current artistic interests include experimental cinema, photography and visual poetry. He is also a member of the European Society for Central Asian Studies and the Association of Art Historians (UK).

 

Alexander Ugai, born in 1978 in Kyzylorda, lives and works in Almaty (Kazakhstan). In his works, he reveals the themes of memory and nostalgia, the interaction of history with today's reality and the future. In part, this explains the simultaneous use of 8-16 mm film cameras produced back in Soviet times and modern digital recording devices. Many of Ugay's video projects are aimed at exploring the links between collective and personal memory and space, focusing on the concept of time. In recent years, Alexander Ugai has also been actively working with the medium of the installation.

 

References:

(1) Leshchinskiy 2007

(2) Seiple 2005, 258

(3) Martin, 2000

(4) Onghena 2007, 261

(5) Aspden 2010

(6) Pop-Eleches and Tucker 2010

(7) Muzafarov 2010, 18

(8) Monaghan and Just, 2000, 26

(9) Japarov 2010-2011, 35

 

 

Editors: Ira Konyukhova, Kundry Reif

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