Over the last decade Central Asian art’s place in the landscape of contemporary art has become increasingly more visible, finding a place at the Venice Biennale and being represented at the 2014 Art Dubai fair. In 2011, Calvert 22 staged Between Heaven and Earth: Contemporary Art from Central Asia. Curated by David Elliott, the exhibition contributed to a growing interest in the region and its cultural output. As Elliott discusses his experience of putting together the show on 3 December at London’s Dash Arts, we look back at some of its most memorable works.
Alien, Erbossyn Meldibekov (2008)” src=”https://www.calvertjournal.com/images/uploads/articles/a/alien1.jpg” style=“width: 1000px; height: 1426px; ” />
His Alien (2008) dwells on stereotypes more generally, moving between careful depiction and caricature. The camera appears to capture a close-up portrait of a man — the artist himself — in a truthful manner and simple outfit, yet the profile pose adds a surreal detail of an extra pair of protruding teeth. While the work’s title might frame the image in terms of the 1979 film of the same name, the associations of the word “alien” with the foreign and unfamiliar are equally unavoidable. Meldibekov makes over his own image as one imagined through a lens of ignorance and misinformation.
The drawings from which the artist takes inspiration are — frustratingly or perhaps even intentionally — untraceable, but we can gauge from the piece that they imagined these nomadic tribes as so inseparable from their horses that even intercourse took place on horseback. The texture of what we are dealing with here is that of a rumour and in having rumour come to life in an unfeasible image, Khalfin’s piece serves to undermine the spurious notions masquerading as fact.
Those who have taken a sleeper train, such as the Trans-Siberian Express, will be familiar with its long, narrow corridors. Ulan Djaparov, from Kyrgyzstan, uses this setting for Train Art (2003-2005), in which the train carriage corridor, its pull-down seats and its handrails become the tools for a diversity of religious practices. We see a man use the patterned rug that covers the length of the corridor as a prayer mat, the pull-down seats accommodate a row of men meditating in a lotus position and the handrails that usually serve to steady passengers moving along the length of the carriage become the setting for a scene of a crucifixion. The cramped corridors of the train bring the practices of Islam, Buddhism and Christianity together into one confined setting as the train traverses the vast terrain across Europe and Asia. With it Djaparov highlights the ethnic and religious intermingling of a region that is characterised by an often too neatly outlined set of traits.
Viktor Vorobyev and Yelena Vorobyeva