– Autumn/Winter 2012

Almagul Menlibayeva: Wanderings and Incarnations

Yuliya Sorokina

Tags: Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben

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.

Green Triangle

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

  1. Irina Yuferova, ‘The Nineties: A Sweet Time of Hope’, in Art from Central Asia: A Contemporary Archive (exh. cat.), Venice: Central Asian Pavilion/51st Venice Biennale, 2005, p.71.

  2. A patterned felt blanket, used in Kazakh applied art.

  3. A technique for making one-off prints by scratching into a layer of wax.

  4. Rustam Khalfin, from the concept note for the project ‘Shkura khudozhnika' (‘The Artist’s Skin'), doubling as the press release for the exhibition ‘Parad galerey’ (‘Gallery Parade’), Almaty: A. Kasteev State Museum of Arts, 1997, p.1.

  5. The performance was filmed by Renat Kosay, who kept out of the audience’s sight.

  6. Almagul Menlibayeva, from the concept note for Vechnaya nevesta (Eternal Bride), 2002.

  7. A. Menlibayeva, from the concept note for Apa, 2003.

  8. Menlibayeva was one of the performers, and the video documentation of the action was made by Ablikim Akmullaev, one of the artists in the Green Triangle group.

  9. A. Menlibayeva, from the concept note for Dzhikhad (Jihad, 2004).

  10. A. Menlibayeva, from the concept note for Myaso i klubnika (Meat and Strawberries, 2007).

  11. From Menlibayeva’s artist’s statement on her gallery’s website: http://www.priskajuschkafineart.com/ artists/Almagul_Menlibayeva/statement.php (last accessed on 31 July 2012).  

  12. Ibid.  

  13. In the 1960s the Soviet government divested the rivers that fed the lake in order to irrigate the desert  region surrounding the Aral Sea.  

  14. A yurt or round tent made of wooden spacers and felt.  

  15. A decorative embellishment in a yurt.  

  16. The Kazakhs’ low, round dining table.

  17. The Kazakhs’ traditional improvisational bard and musician. 

  18. Asiya Galimzhanova, Kontseptual’nye osnovaniya kazakhskoy zhivopisi vtoroy poloviny XX — nachala XXI veka, Almaty: Kazakh National Academy of Arts, 2010, p.36.

  19. Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community (1990, trans. Michael Hardt), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, p.60.