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Almagul Menlibayeva: Wanderings and Incarnations

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
Yuliya Sorokina traces the evolution of Almagul Menlibaeva’s practice, from one concerned with Kazakh national identity towards one whose mythopoeic videos address universal archetypes. 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.