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Almagul Menlibayeva, Homeland Guard, 2011, production photograph for Transoxiana Dreams (2011), Lambda print mounted on Alu-Dibond. Courtesy the artist and Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, New York
One could call Almagul Menlibayeva a nomad, perhaps, but in a different sense from that normally used by the art world. She comes from the nomadic culture of Kazakhstan, and in her practice she overcomes geographic borders with ease, as well as the boundaries of self-censorship in art. This essay on Menlibayeva’s work is an attempt to understand the roots and logic of these changes. In the beginning of her career she worked in traditional media such as painting and graphics, and she experimented with combining the representational space of figurative painting with the decorative flatness of Kazakh felt rugs. As her practice developed, she gradually left the two-dimensionality of painting behind, moving towards a time-based practice that seeks a recognition of the values of authentic nomadic culture. She has turned from a performer into an artist-director who devises, organises and shoots her moving-image works. At the same time, she aims to create her own nomadic mythology, updating archaic myths and poeticising the dramatic reality of post-Soviet Kazakhstan.
In the late 1980s and early 90s a group of young artists, students and graduates of the Zhurgenev State Institute of Theatre and Art emerged in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. The group called itself Green Triangle and Menlibayeva was a member, taking part in its first underground exhibitions. This was when we got to know each other, at the ‘Crossroads’ exhibition in the Central Exhibition Hall in 1989, which now has cult status in Kazakhstan. ‘Crossroads’ gathered all non-conformist groups existing at that time, among whom Green Triangle stood out for its exceptional freedom of expression. The curator of ‘Crossroads’, Irina Yuferova, remembers:
They [the Green Triangle