Problems and Prospects for Development: Raushan Yeschanova on Art in Kazakhstan

Raushan Yeschanova

It is said that art can open doors to the depths of the human soul, transport one to other worlds and allow one to see and experience things from a new perspective. The history of Almaty is rich in culture and creativity, and today, Almaty-based art historian Raushan Yeschanova shares her thoughts on contemporary art in Kazakhstan, the problems of its development, and the role that will be played by the new Museum of Contemporary Art, which is scheduled to open this year.


TCA: Tell us how you came to study art?

Traveling has always made me think about how mankind was able to create such masterpieces and what moved them. And it’s not just about the Renaissance, Art Nouveau and or contemporary art; it’s also about ancient Egyptian art and artifacts from lost civilizations. In addition, I worked as an interior designer, and this required a good knowledge of interior styles. After all, art is not only paintings and sculptures, but also architecture, and I always wanted to immerse myself in it.


TCA: How do you assess the influence of the national culture of Kazakhstan on the development of contemporary art in the country?

If we talk about the present time, at the moment our country is experiencing, I would say, “a period of revival in art”. Since the formation of the fine arts school in Kazakhstan occurred during the accession of Kazakhstan to Russia, our art developed under the influence of Russian painting, which in turn looked to Western European art. After all, before the period of annexation there was only decorative applied art, and to engage in painting was forbidden due to religious traditions. After a century of development, once ideological principles became less strict, artists have returned to their “nomadic” past in which they find more and more sacred knowledge about life


TCA: What themes and motifs from history and culture most often inspire contemporary artists?

They are inspired by rock art, symbols, mythological subjects… Kazakhstan is first of all a steppe, it is a yurt – and this universe is a source of inspiration for many. Artists use different styles, for example, combining ancient techniques with painting or, for example, placing the meaning of human existence into the national female headdress, the “saukele”.


TCA: What problems do contemporary artists face in Kazakhstan?

The main problem facing contemporary artists is the underdeveloped art market within the country. Many established artists live and work outside of Kazakhstan. As for young artists, it is the lack of quality institutions aimed at the realization of their creativity. There is no opportunity to participate in exhibitions, and the basis for promotion is social networks. Despite the presence of galleries in the cities, not all artists have the opportunity to display their works, as the issue of selling work is often controversial.

Also, many talented artists have second jobs where their labor is better paid; for example, in the field of interior design, wall painting or creating pieces to order. Some even work as florists. The lack of such specialty subjects as art management in universities creates a vacuum between the work of the artist and the consumer. I think this problem exists in many countries in the post-Soviet space.


TCA: Which art, modern or traditional, is more relatable and understandable to you personally, and why?

Actually, contemporary art does not seek to be understood. It exists on its own. It does not seek to please the eye. By revealing the ability to see more than just form or color, contemporary art leads to dialogue. It is often a kind of manifesto. The artist always engages the viewer through a challenge. After all, it is often realized in such a way that it does not fit into society, and as a consequence is often subject to criticism. But in general, I prefer the term actual art, art of the 21st century, because the term “modern art” originates in different periods in different countries.

As for “traditional” art, it is more understandable even to the “uninitiated viewer” as it has the forms of realistic traditions. Since we are talking about Kazakh painting, it is the landscapes of steppes, mountains, pastures, and picturesque valleys. Also, the art of Kazakhstan is epic! There are portraits of prominent figures, batyrs, and sculptures showing traditional Kazakh life in a yurt, and arts and crafts depicting women on the steppe sitting in a traditional pose with a knee directly on the ground symbolizing their connection with nature. These are young people looking into the distance and waiting for something new. So, as an art historian, it is difficult for me to choose one.


TCA: Which artists of Kazakhstan inspire you and who should we pay attention to?

Contemporary artists in Kazakhstan work in different directions. Classical painting demonstrates the color, mythology, ancient beliefs and modern cultural priorities of the inhabitants of the Great Steppe. Through the means of new technologies artists create installations and video art combining natural and classical materials to depict the problems of society. Almagul Menlibayeva, a well-known contemporary artist, is characterized by her originality of thought and is a striking figure. Works by Adil Aubekerov, who believes that the line is the basis of everything, the connection between the visible and invisible as between the past and the future in noteworthy. Saulet Zhanibek in his latest works explores the nomadic past as a point of reference which left the so-called imprint of time in faces and fates. I would advise you to familiarize yourself with them.

Among modern artists, there are surrealists, symbolists, graphic artists and realists. All of them are united by one thing – love for their native land, its history and culture.


Times of Central Asia