Modern Art Asia Issue 4:

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That is another important commonality for Central Asian artists: they find an audience and support. In Central Asia, there are no strong local markets for contemporary art, nor state institutionalization of it. Thus, contemporary art is neither elite nor inaccessible; on the contrary, it is public and open to starting a discussion with large audiences.

There is also a growing interest in combining creative spaces with other activities—public lectures, free discussions, interactive lectures, film screenings, and even activities for kids—in order to encourage more participation. Contemporary artists themselves strive to engage with their audiences. There are multiple groups and networks on social media, and artists encourage people to participate in discussions, to dialogue with them.

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We are seeing a great boom in contemporary art development across the region, not just in big cities or well-connected circles. Because artists are incredibly open to discussions, there are a lot of networks and groups. In the field of contemporary art, most actors know each other well or at least know the context in which one another are working.

When new names emerge and their works appear at group exhibits, the community tries to get to know them better and spread the word about them. I have come across this phenomenon quite a lot during my interviews and discussions with artists. Did you see how exciting his or her work is? Locations, passports, languages, and dialects do not matter to this network of people.

Artists across the region have long since erased borders and divisions, the internet is connecting people from near and far with rapid communication, and most importantly, artistic production is the adhesive that holds this great community together and keeps it so strong. Yes, absolutely. Art is connected to the society from which it emerges and operates.

Hence, since both go through periods of development and transformation, art and society continuously influence each other.

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But we as researchers tend to focus more on the transformations at social, political, and economic level, and only then on cultural development. The question of what changes in art over time and why is a very important one. In my work on contemporary art in Central Asia, I start the discussion in the mids, with the advent of perestroika and structural changes in Central Asian societies from During this period, a lot of underground movements emerged in different parts of Central Asia and across the Soviet Union.

Most of these movements were formed by non-conformist young people who sought alternative truth, alternative aesthetic, alternative identity. It was not the first time in history that underground or dissenting movements emerged in the region and it was definitely not the first time that alternative art forms and experiments emerged.

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When these groups of artists started revolting against the socialist realist canon in different parts of Central Asia, they inevitably also revolted against the political order of how things ought to be done—and consequently, they revolted against their own position and identity as Soviet citizens. This was both a collective experience of being part of that movement but also a very individual and private transformation into a new type of an artist, one that each of my respondents remembers differently.

Many found themselves lost and searching for the meaning of who they were far from their homes; others returned to traditional crafts and materials to seek the knowledge they had forgotten and thus reverse their cultural amnesia. All of these encounters were intense practices that were then shared and discussed with the public, both locally and abroad. A lot of these practices and works were conceptualized by the artists themselves, as well as by curators and art critics. Yet not much of it has remained in print, been kept in public libraries, or been published widely; the first wave of contemporary art in the region is still kept in private libraries and oral histories, which I am currently trying to collect and combine.

I remember how, during an interview with one artist in Almaty, he mentioned one of the first contemporary art exhibitions he saw in Moscow in He described the event, told me the address of the gallery, and discussed some of the works that had a great impact on him. His memory of these feelings was clear to see during the interview, but I lacked any further information about the exhibition until I accidentally found one of the few remaining catalogs from that Moscow exhibition while searching through the Cambridge University Library collection in the West Room.

I was astonished when I found the same address and date and noted the works that had had such a great impact on the artist to whom I had spoken. It always feels like collecting missing pieces of the puzzle. There are a number of exceptionally good works on contemporary art in Central Asia to date. Among them is the work by artpologist and anthropologist Zhanara Nauryzbayeva that inspired a lot of my own research questions.

There are articles by local curators and educators, for example Yulia Sorokina , and also a book of articles written by Valeria Ibrayeva. But in my view, there are still many pieces of this puzzle that we need to research, note down, and analyze. I would not say that the search for post-post-Soviet is over yet. My observations and interviews with artists demonstrate that while new generations of contemporary artists are emerging, a lot of them are still interested in similar issues of searching for the Self. As I said, art and society are deeply interconnected and reflect one another; if a society finds itself still facing the same problems as in the late s, or if certain issues were exacerbated by the transition period in the s, these problems will be reflected by contemporary artists.


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The key theme here is Time itself and how we respond to time—how do we view and understand the past, our history, traditions? What I mean by this is that they focus on depicting the nineteenth century in the brightest shades of colors, which only became available ten years ago, or they imagine great ancestors in textiles and fabrics so modern that the line between past and present is completely blurred. Our imagination of the past is inevitably limited to what we know about it in the present and to what we can operate with nowadays.

All the contemporary artists I have interviewed are completely aware of this constant replication and limitation, so when they gaze into the yurt, it is the twenty-first century yurt of a globalized nomad who wears clothes made of Uzbek cotton but sown in China and sold in Dordoi bazar in Bishkek or brought to a local barakholka bazar in a nearby city.

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But for many official artists who are sponsored by goszakaz the new form of socialist realism and state propaganda , the objectification of the past and present is more important than its problematization. They are guided by the need to provide the only true picture of what happened before colonization, from how nomadic rulers looked to how horses were proportioned.

I do not mean to say that any of these things are good or bad, right or wrong, and believe me, I am one of the biggest fans of monuments including horses—I study them in great detail in every town and city I go to and I have quite a collection of horse photos. I am no art critic to judge these practices; on the contrary, I am a cultural sociologist seeking to become part of them in order to better understand how they emerge and why. What fascinates me is this obsession with authenticity and time, this compulsion to make everything look and talk like it would have in the nineteenth or eighteenth century, and how all of that can be combined with new technology, urban developments, and globalization.

I recently saw and was fascinated by an old Central Asian carpet that depicted Alexander Pushkin. The carpet was done in an old technique and was exhibited in a nineteenth-century medrese-turned-museum to help demonstrate the continuity of local traditions through time. To me, this is also a perfect example of contemporary art, even though it is probably not positioned as such. The carpet was probably made in the s and exhibited in its current form and current place only twenty or thirty years ago.

It is contemporary because it reflects on the complex layers of the current societal situation. At this point, I personally see a great variety of different flows, movements, perceptions and schools of thought in art of Central Asia: some are still stuck in socialist realism, others have mutated into later forms, still others are completely unexpected and probably even unaware of how contemporary and conceptual they are.

And of course there is a swathe of clearly positioned contemporary and independent from the state art that explores all sorts of directions. In my own analysis and forthcoming book, I identify time, identity, state, and self as four major themes—rather than stages—of contemporary art in this region at present. I recognize all contemporary artists for their bravery and talent. They have what it takes to stand up and express their voice—their viewpoint—despite all sorts of fears, self-doubt, and a lack of funding. They also have enough strength to have continued doing so throughout all these years of post-independence.

Its international expansion efforts beyond London have long been anticipated since receiving an investment from Art Basel parent company MCH Group. The Hong Kong operation will not simply be a new independent fair, but will look to take over a pavilion within Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong from October as part of a long-term partnership with the Hong Kong fair. The partnership will also invite Fine Art Asia to have a similar but smaller presence at Masterpiece London in June later this year, as well as a group exhibition on a shared stand.

The Masterpiece Pavilion at Fine Art Asia intends to occupy a large enough space that hosts around 25 exhibitors in individual stands, with some pairing up. This careful approach comes after the group announced cuts to its portfolio in November of last year, when they announced that they will be abandoning a relatively new initiative to launch regional art fairs around the world.

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