Harper’s Bazaar Art: Your solo exhibition, Malus Sieversii at Andakulova Gallery in Dubai, presents Kazakhstan in transition between modernity and tradition. What was the inception and conceptual development of the exhibition?
Askhat Akhmediyarov: My solo show in Dubai was developed through extensive conversations between me and curator Irina Bourmistrova who was the initiator of this project. Irina came to Astana to see my show Singular Plural in The National Museum of Kazakhstan and from there we immediately started to work on my September debut in Dubai. While I was contemplating an appropriate subject for the Dubai show, Irina came up with the idea that the show should be about the vanishing forests of wild apple trees in region between south Kazakhstan, western China, the north of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan: it is a unique environment for biodiversity that must be protected. This area is also a genetic reservoir which will affect the future of the culture of the apple tree.
Irina Bourmistrova: It’s true we both became fascinated with the idea of translating the story of the wild apple of Kazakhstan that gave the former capital of Kazakhstan its name: Almaty, or “Fatherland of Apples”, into the central theme for the exhibition. The idea implies an image with metaphorical meanings and a multitude of cultural references. In general, the idea behind this project was to respond to the idea of awareness about the world around us was combined (stirred) with the processes of the construction of post-soviet national and personal identities to be presented as a kind of visual discussion.
HBA: Can you describe the concept behind the installation, ‘The Necklace’?
AA: ‘The Necklace’ is a large-sized installation which greets visitors when they enter the exhibition. The idea behind The Necklace lies in nomads’ beliefs about the protective powers of necklaces traditionally passed down from one generation to another. I’ve assembled this huge necklace from pieces of traditional crockery that can be found in every household in Kazakhstan. I’ve also included in the multicolored strands of The Necklace numerous pieces of crockery I’ve bought in Dubai. I’ve mixed traditional elements with mass produced designs into a visually pleasing form in order to address the idea of globalization and the effect it has in the alteration and transformation of traditions. What I’ve explored here is the need to return to eternal values and to protect rituals and practices before they fade and die.
HBA: What do you seek to convey in your installation of apples in the exhibition? Is there a particular significance behind the reflective mirrors which encompass the apples and how do you hope visitors will be impacted?
IB: ‘Apple Sphere’ is an interactive installation that focuses on audience participation and shared experience. As a curator I wanted to create an environment where the audiences were activated, encouraged to reach out and turned from passive visitors into participants. ‘Apple sphere’ echoes the form of the Earth. The artist's intentions in this installation were to challenge viewers to think in thought-provoking way about the complexity of our world and how easily it can be torn apart.
AA: I love working with reflective surfaces therefore I am drawn to mirrors for their visually interesting qualities. With mirrors I can create an ideal form such as a sphere. Apple Sphere became a focal point of my show, the reflection in the mirror creates an illusion of one giant apple comprised of 50kg of apples. At the opening of the exhibition viewers were invited to grab an apple from the installation and bite it. As they interacted with the sculpture they were both able to be seen and to see their own reflections when they were in fact breaking the perfect image of the Apple Sphere. This installation is a metaphor for our everyday actions when we alter or even destroy things around us without thinking.
Askhat Akhmediyarov. A Feast 2. 2016. 100 x 100 cm. Edition: 1/5. Digital print
HBA: How have you interpreted representations of modernity into the traditional depictions of Kazakhstan?
IB: Askhat undertakes very personal researches of identity where he follows an impulse present in his native land to reinvent itself within the context of its ancient roots, going back to pre-Soviet and even pre-Islamic cultures. His new series of photographic works made for the Malus Sieversii exhibition express nostalgia for the vast steppe spaces and the people’s nomadic past. In this respect the photographic work, A Poor’s Man Wealth, clearly signals the disaccord between the desire to return to the tradition and the realities of current life. Throughout his art work Ashat pinpoints the tension of opposites and poses more questions than answers.
AA: The Malus Sieversii exhibition presents a delicate balance between works depicting the remnants of the traditions as seen in the diptych, A Feast, which depicts the dastarkhan a unique custom in Kazakhstan – a feast for visiting guests and special occasions. At the opposite end of the spectrum is my video installation, In love with a truck, that reflects my active concern about the disappearance of the traditional world of the nomad. The mytho-poetic narrative of this video is about young Kazakh women who no longer wants to resist the magnetism and temptations of urban life. She leaves behind her house in the steppes, tears off her national dress and alters her looks in the beauty salon so she can seamlessly blend in within the crowds of city dwellers. She becomes one of them and exchanges a freedom of the steppes for life in an urban environment.
HBA: Do you have any imminent artistic endeavours which you would like to share with our readers?
AA: The exhibition at Andakulova gallery has become a very important step for me. After Dubai’s debut I will show my art in Tashkent at the International art exhibition organised by the Academy of Fine Arts of Uzbekistan. I am also planning a residence in France and of course I would like to take part in Venice Biennale.
Askhat Akhmediyarov’s exhibition Malus Sieversii runs until December 7, 2016 at Andakulova Gallery in Dubai. For further information click here