– Autumn/Winter 2019

Decolonial AestheSis and the Post-Soviet Art

Madina Tlostanova

Taus Makhacheva, Tightrope, 2015, HD video, colour, sound, 58min 10sec. Courtesy the artist and Narrative Projects, London

Taus Makhacheva, Tightrope, 2015, HD video, colour, sound, 58min 10sec. Courtesy the artist and Narrative Projects, London

One certainly cannot speak of a well-shaped ‘decolonial art movement’ in the post-Soviet context.1 However, artists are increasingly developing self-conscious critical practices of subversion and corporeal emancipation grounded in decolonial agendas. What I will refer to here as ‘post-Soviet decolonial art’ – and as is the case with other examples of decolonial creativity – seeks to engage with forgotten native sounds, tastes and odours. Decolonial artists often aim at reinstating geo-body storytelling and disqualified ideals of beauty. In fact, works by such artists in the post-Soviet space are often ironic, at times grotesque; they include parody, mimicry, chiasmus, overlay, exaggerated nostalgia, deconstruction and creolisation of the previous official aesthetic norms and rules of Soviet modernity. These artists strive to restore human dignity by reclaiming memories and histories, as well as by reviving and reimagining native cultures in tension with Soviet, post-Soviet, national and global neoliberal modernities. These artists value the resurgence of native cosmologies and local histories vis-à-vis modernity. Instead of positioning native cultures in the modern/colonial sense

  1. The post-Soviet people including myself understand the term post-Soviet spatially, temporally and existentially, focussing on the countries, and the millions of people there who struggle to survive in and as the aftermath of state socialist regimes.

  2. It is important to clarify that it is not the case that decolonial post-Soviet artists exoticise their own culture. Instead, they move towards forgotten models and ways of artistic thinking. They rely on
    means no longer restricted by exclusively local sources. During the Perestroika years artists turned to various neo-mythological ways of representation by using recurrent leitmotivs and symbols. As in other countries, this was a realisation of ethnic renaissances and efforts to reinstate the remaining elements of indigenous, colonised and suppressed cultures outside the prescribed official multiculturalist forms. See Patimat Gamzatova, ‘Aktualniye Problemy Iskusstva v Musulmanskom Areale Stran SNG v Nachale 21 Veka’ (Topical problems of art in the Muslim area of CIS countries in the early 21st century), in Patimat Sultanova (ed.), Iskusstvo Turkskogo Mira. Istoki i Evolutsija Khudozhestvennoi Kulturi Turkskikh Narodov (The Art of the Turkic World. Sources and Evolution of the Artistic Culture of the Turkic People), Kazan: Zaman, 2009, pp.56–67.

  3. See Madina Tlostanova, What Does It Mean to Be Post-Soviet? Decolonial Art from the Ruins of the Soviet Empire, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.

  4. See M. Tlostanova, Postcolonialism and Postsocialism in Fiction and Art: Resistance and Re-existence, Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

  5. See, for example, M. Tlostanova and Walter D. Mignolo, Learning to Unlearn: Decolonial Reflections from Eurasia and the Americas, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012; W.D. Mignolo and Rolando Vasquez, ‘The Decolonial AestheSis Dossier’, Social Text Online, 15 July 2013, available at https://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_topic/decolonial_aesthesis/ (last accessed on 6 April 2019); and W.D. Mignolo and Pablo Gomez (ed.), Esteticas y Opcion Decolonial, Bogotá: UD Editorial Creaciones, Bogotá, 2012. Along with many artistic, academic and activist projects, the annual Decolonial Summer School in Middelburg for the last decade has always included post-socialist thinkers and artists such as Ovidiu Tichendeleanu, Manuela Boatça, Tanja Ostojić and myself.

  6. Colonial matrix of power (coloniality of power) is a central decolonial concept meaning a naturalised world order that emerged with the colonisation of the Americas and was subsequently extended to the
    rest of the world through four interrelated spheres of social organisation: economic control, control of
    authority, control of gender and sexuality, and control of knowledge and subjectivity. See M. Tlostanova
    and W.D. Mignolo, Learning to Unlearn, op. cit., pp.44–45.

  7. See Adolfo Albán Achinte, ‘Artistas Indígenas y Afrocolombianos: Entre las Memorias y las Cosmovisiones. Estéticas de la Re-Existencia’, Arte y Estética en la Encrucijada Descolonial (Zulma Palermo), Buenos Aires: Del Siglo, 2009, pp.83–112.

  8. See M. Tlostanova, ‘La aesthesis trans-moderna en la zona fronteriza eurasiática y el anti-sublime decolonial’, Esteticas y Opcion Decolonial, op. cit., pp.49–89.

  9. The postcolonial is meant here as an objective condition, the geopolitical and geo-historical situation
    of those who were born and raised in ex-colonial societies. The decolonial is different as it is an option,
    a choice of how to interpret reality and act upon it. See M. Tlostanova, Postcolonialism and Postsocialism in Fiction and Art, op. cit., p.19.

  10. Email from the artist, 5 November 2010.

  11. Samira Satieva, ‘Saule Suleimenova vossozdayet nepafosnuju istoriju Kazakhstana iz nepafosnikh materialov’ (‘Saule Suleimenova creates a non-pretentious history of Kazakhstan out of non- pretentious materials'), Express K, 4 February 2019, available at https://express-k.kz/news/ekspozitsiya/
    saule_suleymenova_vossozdaet_nepafosnuyu_istoriyu_kazakhstana_iz_nepafosnykh_materialov- 136143?fbclid=IwAR07pY5VISCcN415aHf20-2SoxhUZPESQNyQewIbwVOlIOyJOvEg0T5sviA
    (last accessed on 25 January 2019).

  12. According to independent historians at least 1.5 million Kazakhs died due to the famine in the early 1930s as a result of Stalin’s collectivisation policy. See also Robert Kindler, Stalin’s Nomads. Power and
    Famine in Kazakhstan
    , Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2018.

  13. See M. Tlostanova, ‘A museum between heaven and earth’, in Vladislav Shapovalov (ed.), Taus Makhacheva. Tightrope, Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2017, pp.75–96.

  14. From 1944–57 Chechens, similar to several other ethnicities residing in the North Caucasus, were forcefully deported by the Soviet authorities from their native lands to Central Asia (many of them to
    Kazakhstan). Gaisumov’s works often make a connection between the deportations of the Stalin’s époque and the post-Soviet Chechen campaigns that plunged the people once again into death, home- lessness, exile and humiliation. The negative refugee experience is what at least three generations of Chechens share.

  15. See Rolando Vázquez, ‘Decolonial Aesthesis Overcoming the Post/Human’, The Human Condition: International Interdisciplinary Project, National Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow, 27 November 2015, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKEzFaunz0g (last accessed on 20 December 2016).

  16. Aslan Gaisumov, Keicheyuhea, HD video, colour, sound, Chechen with English subtitles, 26h, 2017.

  17. Anton Nikolayev, ‘The Chronicles of Virtual Revolt. Artivism and Actionism’, Bombila. [blog], 6 June 2011, available at http://halfaman.livejournal.com/510998.html (last accessed on 16 December 2016).