Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pink Floyd, the Aral Sea - Louder than Words

pink floyd endless river lost for words
YouTube grab from Louder Than Words
Cult British group Pink Floyd released its first album in 20 years this month - The Endless River. It entered the Official UK Album Chart at number one.

The album is instrumental except the last track Louder Than Words. The video clip produced to accompany that song includes footage of the Aral Sea.

British production company Hipgnosis, which has worked with Pink Floyd for more than 40 years, filmed in and around Aralsk, Kazakhstan, a former bustling fishing village.

Music video director Aubrey Powell was assisted by Kochegary Studio in Kazakhstan. Powell said that the message of the video is that human actions speak louder than words. "It is more important what you do than what you say...The message of the video concerns the Aral Sea. We touched on environmental issues. We shot wonderful, beautiful shots of the sea, ships at a pier. In the video we want to say: "Let's bring back the sea”. That is we hope that it will come back".

Powell noted that he was familiar with the problems of the Aral Sea. When he suggested using this theme to the members of Pink Floyd, they supported it. "When we talked with David Gilmour, we decided that the video had to draw attention to these issues, but not only from a negative perspective. We wanted to show that maybe we can help bring back the sea.

pink floyd endless river lost for words
YouTube grab from Louder Than Words
When bad things happen in our lives, one can find something good in them too. It is not necessary to see everything in a bad light. The message of the video is primarily positive. (...)"

"Like all Pink Floyd songs, this composition is also filled with deep meaning and philosophy, he said. The video will deal with two generations – the young and the old. The ones who have never seen the Aral Sea and the ones who told stories about the Aral Sea to their grandchildren". The main characters in the video are local villagers, young and old, who dream of a revival of the sea.

Bruce Pannier of RFE/RFL writes that "the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world until a devastating Soviet experiment led to its drying out. In the 1960s the Soviet Union decided to divert waters from the two big rivers of Central Asia - Amu Darya and Syr Darya - to irrigate fields in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

The diversion of water during Soviet times from Central Asia's two great rivers -- the Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya -- into the cotton fields of the region have shrunk the lake to some 10 percent of its original size in less than 100 years.

pink floyd endless river lost for words
YouTube grab from Louder Than Words
Fishing boats that once plied the Aral Sea are now rusting hulls lying in the desert many kilometers from where the shores of the lake are now.

It was that surreal quality of ships stranded in the emptiness of the desert that appealed to Powell; but as he said, he also wanted to bring an environmental message to people".

Powell said the video is "not so much about the disaster -- that's been written about endlessly -- but more about a generational thing, more about what it means to the younger generation, the children of the impoverished and disenfranchised communities around the Aral Sea that have lost fishing and culture."

Watch Louder Than Words [4:40 mins] and hope that efforts to restore the Aral Sea may bear fruit. (If the clip does not appear on your device, go directly to: ).

Materials source: Rolling Stone magazine
Tengri News Kazakhstan
Bruce Pannier, Central Asia Specialist on RFE/RL

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bishkek's Mosaics: Fragmented Dream Project

kyrgyz monumental art mosaics, kyrgyztsan art tours,
Lenin Is With Us, 1978. Image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Readers of this website will know that I have a special interest in Central Asian monumental art, particularly mosaic architectural panels on private and public buildings.

Imagine then my delight in coming across a map of Bishkek's mosaics produced by STAB - School of Theory and Activism Bishkek. This map is the result of a two-year research project which included the attribution and interpretation of the city's Soviet monumental art.

The map includes virtually every major mosaic in Bishkek, located both in the city centre and in suburban areas. Of the seventeen mosaics, six are combined into a walking route. The map, in English and Russian, is accompanied by details about the mosaics and cultural commentaries -  a perfect tool for exploring independently.

STAB wants to draw the attention of Bishkek residents and visitors to the artistic heritage of the socialist modernization project of the 1960s -1980s. As well as offering urban exploration, this project helps preserve these mosaics in Bishkek, since many of them, despite having state protection status, are in poor condition.

(By the way, the last monumental panels were created in post-Soviet times. In 2004 Alexey Kamensky, a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, decorated two panels of the academy. Students were involved in firing ceramics in the academy's workshops and installing them on the building).

STAB also runs regular walking tours of the mosaics, in English. You can contact the group via its English website. You can buy the map (about $3) directly from STAB's office. Just call in advance to check opening hours.

Here are some examples of Bishkek's mosaics.

kyrgyz monumental art mosaics, kyrgyztsan art tours,
The Path of Enlightenment, 1978. Photo credit: STAB

The Path of Enlightenment, was designed by Kyrgyz painter Satar Aitiev in 1978. It created a stir in Frunze (the Soviet name for Bishkek) at the time: "It was a great event, a shocking event. It was bold, beautiful, new and entirely different from everything else. We all asked each other the question - how was he allowed to do that? How did the Artists' Union accept it?"(Shailoo Djekshenbaev)

Instead of traditional monumental forms, the imagery has given way to a "painting-like haze". It decorates a campus building of the Kyrgyz National University.

kyrgyz monumental art mosaics, kyrgyztsan art tours,
Female Athletes, 1975. Photo credit: STAB

Many mosaic panels were incorporated into residential buildings in quiet neighbourhoods. Several were created by construction workers themselves, such as the example above, not by members of the official Union of Artists.

Sport was a prominent theme and this image of female athletes, which matched one of male athletes, was created to inspire residents to develop healthy athleticism.

kyrgyz monumental art mosaics, kyrgyztsan art tours,
Radio and Nowadays, 1967   Photo credit: STAB
The panel above, "Radio and Nowadays" is connected to the building's function as a radio centre: radio waves emanate from the figure of a giant who has tamed visible and invisible substances.

Science was one of the favourite subjects of monumental art - graphs, charts and scientific instruments were excellent representations of the triumph of rational knowledge.

This mosaic is made of stone - in  the 1960s pebbles and other materials were significantly cheaper than ceramics and glass. (Cobalt glass was imported from Ukraine during the Soviet period).

kyrgyz monumental art mosaics, kyrgyztsan art tours,
Detail from Welcoming Guests, 1964. Photo credit: STAB
The detail at left is from the first mosaic that was created in Kyrgyzstan, in 1964, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the accession of Kyrgyzstan to Russia. It is done in the spirit of colourful, socialist realism.

Materials source: STAB

Related posts:
Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels #1
Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels #2
Turkmenistan: Tracking Down Mosaics

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Skateistan: Kabul's Skate School Turns Five

kabul afghanistan skateboarding central asia, girls sports afghanistan
Getting ready for an outdoor skate day. Image courtesy Skateistan
On October 29, 2009, the NGO Skateistan opened Afghanistan's first skateboard park. A group of 40 Afghan children, including girls and street-working kids, had been skateboarding for many months at an empty Soviet fountain in Kabul, and now had somewhere to call their own.

On November 9, 2014, the five year anniversary of Skateistan Kabul will be celebrated by hundreds of students, staff, alumni, families, officials, community members, and supporters.

Built on land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee, the Skateistan Kabul "skate school" was designed to be much more than a skatepark, also featuring classrooms, offices, a library, and a multi-sport area. Its goal was to provide free educational and recreational programming to some of the most vulnerable Afghan girls and boys. Skateistan Kabul became a rare, safe space for children to play and learn.

Five years later, Skateistan Kabul has registed more than 1500 children into its award-winning sport and educational programming, and has more than 400 children attending each week. Dozens of Afghan youth have graduated from being Skateistan students to volunteers and staff, leading the next generation of Kabul skateboarders. More than 40% of Skateistan students are girls.

afghanistan central asia sport, skateboarding kabul afghanistan
Go Skateboarding Day 2012 - Nawab, kickflipping at left, was killed in a suicide blast in 2012. Image courtesy Skateistan

The 2014 anniversary event will include skateboarding demonstrations by the girls and boys of Skateistan, as well as various student performances (theatre, singing, film, speeches).

The ten most iconic photos from the past five years will also be on exhibition. Skateistan Kabul's success has since inspired replica projects in northern Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa.

A 320-page colour book Skateistan: The Tale of Skateboarding in Afghanistan features stunning, previously unpublished photographs accompanied by essays, interviews and personal stories from Skateistan's founder, Australian Oliver Percovich, and the young people who have gone from being students to teachers in the skate park and classrooms.

central asian tours, afghanistan skateboarding,
Skateboarding in the former gardens of Kabul's Royal Palace. Image Skateistan
This is such an uplifting story. Consider buying the book for yourself and additional copies for friends and family.  It is not only beautifully produced, the design and contents are very cool. All proceeds go directly back to Skateistan.

Related posts: Cricket in Afghanistan and Tajikistan
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding