News — 16 Apr 2022

13 artists donate 22 works in collaboration with Aspan Gallery, Kazakhstan

An important addition to the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Vyacheslav Akhunov, from the series Mantras of the USSR, 1977-1983, collage and pencil on paper. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Vyacheslav Akhunov, from the series Mantras of the USSR, 1977-1983, collage and pencil on paper. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The Stedelijk announces a major donation of contemporary art from Central Asia by artists represented by Aspan Gallery based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The donation comprises 22 works by 13 artists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The donation spans a period of almost fifty years: 1974-2020. The works from the 1970s and 1980s were created by artists in the underground art scene in the former Soviet republics, followed by work created after these republics gained independence in the early 1990s. It is a time in which artists explored national identities while simultaneously attempting to keep step with the international art world.

Dilyara Kaipova, Darth Vader, 2016, handwoven cotton, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Dilyara Kaipova, Darth Vader, 2016, handwoven cotton, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The donation includes works by Vyacheslav Akhunov, Lidiya Blinova, Bakhyt Bubikanova, Saodat Ismailova, Dilyara Kaipova, Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev, Rustam Khalfin, Almagul Menlibayeva, Yerbossyn Meldibekov, Yelena & Viktor Vorobyev and Alexander Ugay.
Among the themes central to their oeuvres are: collective memory, a search for identity, the complex colonial and imperial history of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, capitalism, (lost) forms of knowledge (transfer), nomadism, shamanism, ecology and the Russian avant-garde.

Yerbossyn Meldibekov’s Pastan I from 2001 is already on display in the new collection presentation Tomorrow Is a Different Day. Collection 1980—Now. Other works from the donation will also be on show soon in the museum.

Rein Wolfs, director Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: “We are delighted that, thanks to this donation, we have the opportunity to enter into dialogue with communities of artists that, even today, are too little heard in ‘Western’ museums. From a Dutch perspective, we were insufficiently aware of art created behind the Iron Curtain at the time, and it is underrepresented in western collections. This donation offers us a glimpse into a part of the world that is surrounded by incomprehension and prejudice in Europe, and which, despite more than thirty years of independence, is rarely seen as fully-fledged and autonomous. A reality that is all the more relevant and urgent today. This dialogue not only focuses on expanding the collection with art from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, but also offers new perspectives on our existing collection, particularly the Russian historical avant-garde.”

Meruyert Kaliyeva, director Aspan Gallery: “Central Asian contemporary art is relatively unknown on the international art scene and the presence of such a collection in the Stedelijk Museum is an important step in its dissemination and scholarly research. It is particularly rewarding to see these works in the context of the Stedelijk’s collection, because there is a clear connection. Lidiya Blinova and Rustam Khalfin, prominent contemporary artists in Central Asia, were followers of Vladimir Sterligov, who in turn was a student of Kazimir Malevich, of whom the Stedelijk holds one of the largest and most impressive collections. I am very grateful to the artists and collectors who embraced the idea of donation and also the team of the Stedelijk Museum for embarking on this adventure.”

The donation was prepared by Robbie Schweiger, a member of the Stedelijk Museum’s research staff who, with the support of a NWO museum grant, conducted follow-up research in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan into several of the artists whose work is among those to be donated. Schweiger will publish his findings on the online scientific platform of the Stedelijk, Stedelijk Studies.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THREE WORKS:

Rustam Khalfin, Skin of the Artist, 1996, gelatine silver print on cardboard. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Rustam Khalfin, Skin of the Artist, 1996, gelatine silver print on cardboard. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

RUSTAM KHALFIN, SKIN OF THE ARTIST, 1996
Rustam Khalfin (1949-2008) lived and worked in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Together with his wife, artist Lidiya Blinova, whose work is also included in the donation, he spearheaded a new wave of Central Asian art in the late 1970s. This movement broke away from the officially sanctioned art styles and subjects and formed a kind of ‘parallel culture’. Khalfin and Blinova were educated by students of prominent avant-garde artists such as Malevich, and can be seen as a bridge between the Russian avant-garde and contemporary art. They were the first to use concepts such as curator, installation, environment and performance in Central Asia. In Khalfin's ‘nomadic modernism’ he combines a modernist visual language with elements of nomadic culture. Skin of the Artist was part of Khalfin's first project as a curator in Almaty in 1996 and is an extension of his logic: “all human-made art may be referred to as shed skins.”

Yerbossyn Meldibekov, Pastan I, 2001, single-channel video. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Yerbossyn Meldibekov, Pastan I, 2001, single-channel video. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

YERBOSSYN MELDIBEKOV, PASTAN I, 2001
Yerbossyn Meldibekov (1964, Tulkubas) lives and works in Almaty, Kazakhstan. His work consists of sculptures, installations, performances, videos and photography and focuses on political processes in Central Asia. With humour and irony, Meldibekov dissects various issues that are important for identity formation, such as national heroes, historical images, monuments and landscapes. He places the history of Central Asia in a cyclical perspective and presents the complex and sometimes absurd geopolitical relations of the region. In Pastan I, Meldibekov portrays himself as the Oriental ‘other’ who passively undergoes verbal and physical violence. As a spectator you are confronted with an apparently boundless submission and at the same time with the monumental power of naked life. Meldibekov: "This work symbolizes what people in Central Asia are undergoing through systems that try to keep power through violence and fear."

Saodat Ismailova, Zukhra, 2013, single-channel video, embroidery. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Saodat Ismailova, Zukhra, 2013, single-channel video, embroidery. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

SAODAT ISMAILOVA, ZUKHRA, 2013
Saodat Ismailova (1981, Tashkent) is a filmmaker and artist who lives and works in Paris and Tashkent. In her work she investigates the connections between the history of Central Asia, different forms of ‘invisible’ knowledge and identity. In 2013, Ismailova took part in the Venice Biennale in the Central Asia Pavilion with her video installation Zukhra. The work, that bears the Uzbek name for the planet Venus, is based on the story of a young woman who undergoes a chilla ritual (40 days of silence). In the film we see a young woman lying on a bed as her dreams reveal themselves to the viewer through sounds and shadows. The Aspan Gallery says of this work: “Image and sound come and go in an echo of textures, breaths and phrases of the past associated with the creation of Uzbekistan, the shifting of borders and the use of feminine beauty in propaganda.”