Monday, June 1, 2020

Central Asian Art Bazaar - Supporting Contemporary Artists

Three Bishkek-based artists/activists have started a remarkable online marketplace for Central Asian contemporary art. The article below, written by the initiators, was first published on TransitoryWhite on 14 May 2020. Through this marketplace I have been able to buy pieces by some of Central Asia's best known artists as well as by emerging artists. 

At the bottom I explain how, with little Russian, I have been able to do so. Do please read the article, perhaps over a cup of green tea, to understand the aims of this innovative bazaar.

PULLING OURSELVES OUT OF THE SWAMP
By Meder Akhmetov, Darina Manasbek, Philipp Reichmuth 

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Valery Ruppel, "New Forms of Tulips or Political Botanic, dedicated to the 2005 Kyrgyz Tulip Revolution.

For Central Asian artists, the coronavirus lockdowns promised to be a time of dread and survival. However, the time of lockdowns and isolation turned out to be a time charged with emergent power, giving birth to a unique emerging situation.

This is Art Bazaar, a social media experiment with 1000+ participants launched in mid-April and currently run by architect/artist Meder Akhmetov, artist Darina Manasbek, and consultant/activist Philipp Reichmuth. Apart from a social media experiment, it is also a successful informal art market and a means for artists to survive the crisis.

Technically, Art Bazaar is just a closed Facebook group (Художественный базар), modelled on a similar group that emerged two weeks earlier in Moscow. In its function, Art Bazaar is a platform for artists to sell their artworks for low prices.

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Saule Suleimenova, “Three Brides”. Plastic bags on a polyethylene base,

However, what is more important than the pure commerce is the community-building and networking aspect. The crisis threatens to drive many artists into depression and destitution, and for us as moderators of Art Bazaar - in particular for Meder as the original initiator - the plight of our friends and colleagues was a strong personal reason to experiment with new formats.


Art Bazaar operates with a few simple rules, that can be summarized as follows:

1. "Sell three - buy one": if you sold three works, you buy one for yourself from another artist.

2. "Bought one - sell two": make sure that you contribute to the market yourself, and if you have nothing to sell - contribute in some other way. 

3. "Sell ten - donate one": if you sold ten works, you donate one of your choice to a joint Art Bazaar collection.

These simple rules encourage participation and redistribution. Young members as well as established artists with international names are contributing, and experimental and conceptual works are sold alongside more traditional fine art. Sometimes coveted works suddenly become accessible for collectors and fellow artists, while sometimes established artists post rare, unusual and experimental works that shows their own exploration of their subjects.

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Said Atabekov, Photo “The Veteran of the Ogedei Front

But the major transformative impact of Art Bazaar comes from its low-price policies. This makes art accessible not only from western passers-by and local elite, but also for the fellow artists and people with moderate income. There are price thresholds of 1000 som ($13) for digital works, 5000 som ($65) for works on paper and 20.000 som ($250) for all other works.

It is very common that artwork is sold for 500 som ($6). Bishkek-based curator Ulan Djaparov contributed a text, reflecting on how this sum represents the crisis management aspect of the group, seeing how it is approximately the sum that a Bishkek family needs to feed itself for a day or two; the manuscript promptly was sold for 500 som.

A new format inevitably raises many questions. For example, the initial participants were all from Kyrgyzstan, but soon Kazakh and Uzbek artists joined, raising questions of money transfer, logistics and currencies - sales are mostly still denominated in Kyrgyz som, even by artists from other countries. The low-price policy has also challenged established notions of how art should be priced and sold.

Apart from traditional formats, such as limited series, artists are experimenting with digital reproductions and selling very large series of up to 500 copies for very low prices to make them accessible. Sometimes this puts artists at odds with the international art market that operates on scarcity, and also with buyers with larger purchasing power, calling for emergent solutions.

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Dilyara Kaipova untitled soft pastel on paper

The "sell ten - donate one" rule has led to a slowly growing Art Bazaar collection. It now includes works by significant artists such as Valery Ruppel and Marat Raiymkulov (Kyrgyzstan), Elena and Viktor Vorobyev, Said Atabekov and Saule Suleimenova (Kazakhstan) or Dilyara Kaipova (Uzbekistan), as well as many others.

From simple beginnings, the collection has begun to turn to reflect the processes and formats of Central Asian contemporary art since the 2000s. Valery Ruppel donated two sheets from his seminal 2006 "Political Botany of Kyrgyzstan" after the 2005 Tulip Revolution. Saule Suleimenova, contribution was originally intended as her 2016 entry into the annual Bishkek First of April Competition of Contemporary Art, while Marat Rayimkulov’s autobiographical notebooks reflect upon his own trajectory as an artist. As soon as the current COVID-19 restrictions make it possible, it is planned to show the Art Bazaar as an exhibition of its own, at least in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Dinara Nuger's felted work "Astana"

The discussions that have begun to emerge within and around Art Bazaar suggest that there is a demand for accessible spaces for discussing art. We see that the community can create self-organized, inclusive art markets for and by artists, whose dynamic does not depend on external actors and gatekeepers. Barriers to participation are deliberately low, moderation is very light, and there are no fees for participation or sales.

Art Bazaar is part of a broader phenomenon of similar groups that have appeared during the COVID-19 crisis. The original was "The Ball and the Cross" (Шар и Крест, after the Chesterton novel), set up April 4 by gallerist Maxim Boxer. It was a hit from the start, transforming the Moscow art market. We (the team behind Art Bazaar) joined this group early, but it  seemed to us that the Moscow audience was not particularly interested in the Central Asian artists’ contributions, their subjects and techniques. Practically no Central Asian works were sold and, consequently, their visibility was pretty low.

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Nadezhda Kononova-Ruppel's bracelet of lapis lazuli, mother of pearl and malachite

Out of this frustration, Meder decided to open Art Bazaar as a separate Central Asian group two weeks later (April 16). A similar example of such emergence is "Salt and Pepper" (Соль и Перец), set up April 24 in Ukraine by collectors and gallerist Marat Guelman and Evgeny Karas. It is now the largest such group, with over 10.000 members, and it is distinguished by a 10% transaction fee that goes to the moderators. Art Bazaar has not professionalized to this extent, and it might never do so, seeing that the informality of the bazaar metaphor does not lend itself well to institutionalization.

In comparison, Art Bazaar with its now 1200 members seems modest, but its impact needs to be seen in context. Firstly, Central Asia is a much poorer region, and the more remarkable it is that suddenly there is at least a temporary solution to some problems of survival. Secondly, we see artists empowering themselves in exploring the concept of an artist-driven market for Central Asian contemporary art.

Unlike Moscow or Kiev, in Central Asia a contemporary art market in the Western sense, with galleries, collectors, curators and museums of contemporary art, has never really taken off. Institutions have been eagerly awaited, always been expected just around the corner, sometimes launched. But in spite of the efforts of different generations of art managers, curators and gallery owners, the effort to establish formal institutions has not yet had a broad impact.

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Viktoria Tsoy's oil painting "Yurts"

Maybe this was also because such an art market assumes the power to be in the hand of someone else - gatekeepers, galleries, critics, and other arbiters in the market - and it is a place of formal, sometimes cold relations. Proponents of such an art market often looked with disdain upon the informal artist underground, comparing it with unflattering imagery such as the kitchens of Soviet apartment blocks.

In Art Bazaar, however, the underground has struck back. Social media has allowed turning the market into an informal place, where you can meet, as if for a tea, with established and emerging artists, share artworks without being shy, and earn some money doing it. This informal character seems to matter to the participants, as does the sudden accessibility of the big names; as one participant puts it, "when you’re new, and one of these established artists buys one of your works, you feel like you’re flying" - not a small thing at the times of psychological pressure.

It seems to work - based on what we see and what artists write themselves, we estimate at least 150 transactions over four weeks. This is a small number for an art market, but a revolutionary number in Central Asia.

But Art Bazaar is an emergent phenomenon for us as well, with little theory behind it. We assume that it is precisely this informality that allows Art Bazaar to empower the artists themselves, whom the crisis had put on the edge, forcing them to pull themselves out of the swamp by their own hair. We do not know where this will be going; there is no goal of institutionalization, or even of continued existence after the crisis.

central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Beibit Asemkul's photograph "Infinity"

The Central Asian experience is that institutionalization often leads to establishing control, and the privatization of what used to be a common, shared resource by a few powerful players. In a way, rather than be taken over by institutional players and either privatized or turned into a Western-style surplus-generating instrument, it might be preferable to let the bazaar slow down again when the crisis is over. But the solution to this will emerge as well; we believe that much of the impact has been made already.

How to buy:

1.   Open a Facebook account for free if you don't already have one.
2.   Visit the Facebook site художественный базар
3.   Click the Join the Group button and complete. You will receive a confirmation within 24 hours.
4.   Google Translate is your friend. There should also be a See Translation link within the post.
5.   Scroll through the pieces submitted. Sometimes the price can be confusing. Most are listed in Kyrgyz som, exchange rate 1USD = 70 Kyrgyz som (approximately), some in US$. Works are also divided thematically - look at the Popular Topics in Posts on the right-hand side
6.   Contact the seller using the Message link at the top of the listing to express your interest directly with the artist and check the price. It is fine to write in English. The artist will reply and also advise the cost of packing and postage. I strongly recommend opting for EMS trackable postage rather than regular airmail.
7.   You then pay the artists via Western Union, World Remit etc or direct bank transfer. Once the artist receives the funds, she/he will contact you and advise when the piece is posted.
Note: All images sourced from the Art Bazaar.
 
central asian art bazaar, kazakh kyrgyz uzbek modern artists, central asian contemporary art
Askhat Akhmediyarov’s sketch book for the Ayan exhibition in Astana.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Pre-Soviet Uzbekistan Captured In Perfect Colour

RFE/RL’s photographer, Amos Chapple, recently published a fascinating photo essay about a 1907 trip to Uzbekistan by Russian photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, one of the pioneers of photographic colour prints.

As well as recognizing the pre-restoration buidlings, many Uzbek Journeys clients will be familiar with Prokudin-Gorsky's photos from his 6-year travels in the Russian empire from 1909. That trip had been commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II, who also provided a railroad-car darkroom. Those photographs are often displayed in Uzbek museums.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky (second from left) waiting in vain for a break in the clouds to observe a solar eclipse from Central Asia’s Tien-Shan mountains on January 1, 1907

The 1907 trip was to observe a solar eclipse from Central Asia's Tien-Shian mountains. Mr  Chapple's text, captions and Prokudin'Gorsky's images are reproduced below.

Several years before he was famously commissioned by the tsar to photograph the Russian Empire in color, chemist Prokudin-Gorsky set off on an expedition to what is now Uzbekistan to observe a solar eclipse.

The weeks-long trip failed in its main goal after cloud cover blocked any glimpse of the eclipse, but the journey was not a lost cause. With his German-made camera that enabled vivid color images to be produced, Prokudin-Gorsky explored the backstreets and ancient centers of Samarkand and Bukhara, capturing photographs unlike any that had been taken before.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
A carpenter strips bark from fresh timber on a back road in Samarkand.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
An Islamic shrine stands inside the Bahoutdin Architectural Complex on the outskirts of Bukhara. The heavily-restored shrine still stands.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
Men pose outside an Islamic school in Samarkand.

Prokudin-Gorsky perfected an early method of colour photography that required three separate images of each scene to be shot with colour filters. When the three images were sandwiched together and had red, green, and blue light shone through them, a color image could be projected.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
A view over central Samarkand from Registan Square

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
A woman in a burqa stands outside a residence in Samarkand
Prokudin-Gorsky made three trips to what is now Uzbekistan but was then part of the Russian Empire.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
Men sell medicinal products in Samarkand

Prokudin-Gorsky’s first trip to Central Asia was for the abortive 1907 attempt to record the solar eclipse, the second and third were in 1911 after he received backing from the tsar to photograph the Russian Empire.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
Bukhara's interior minister with a ceremonial sword
It is unclear when the more than 200 photos Prokudin-Gorsky shot in Central Asia were taken, but photos like this -- of Bukhara's interior minister with a ceremonial sword, which required access to government buildings -- were probably made during the 1911 expeditions, when the photographer had a letter of recommendation from the tsar.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
Two shackled prisoners from Bukhara’s notorious dungeon
The photo above was taken just a few meters from the "bug pit" where two British officers, Stoddart and Conolly were tortured before eventually being beheaded in 1842 by the emir of Bukhara.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
Men are held in the "debtors prison" inside the Bukhara dungeon
Bukharans who owed either taxes to the government or money to other people were held in the prison but allowed out to work until they had repaid their debts.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
A building inside the emir's palace in Bukhara
A local historian advised that this building was destroyed during the 1920 Soviet invasion of the ancient city.

Sergei Prokudin Gorsky photography uzbekistan, prokudin gorsky central asian photos, art craft textile tours central asia
Sunlight illuminates Samarkand’s Shah-i-Zinda Mosque, one of Samarkand’s most important cemeteries
After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Prokudin-Gorsky fled Russia and eventually settled in Paris. Soon after his death in 1944, the U.S. Library Of Congress purchased 1,902 images -- including more than 200 shot in Central Asia -- from the great photographer's relatives.

Related posts:
Ernst Cohn-Wiener Collection: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan 1924 - 1925
Paul Nadar's Images of Turkestan 1890
Strolling Through Samarkand in 1930
Khudaybergen Divanov - Father of Uzbek Photography 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Life on the Margins: The Lyuli People of Uzbekistan

uzbekistan lyuli minority, uzbekistan small group tours, central asian art craft textiles
A young man from the Lyuli community in Uzbekistan's southern province of Surxondaryo.
Image: Aleksandr Barkovsky
Managing editor of Global Voices, Filip Noubel, recently interviewed Uzbek conceptual artist Aleksandr Barkovsky about the time he spent with the Lyuli people.

More than 50 ethnic groups live in Uzbekistan. The Lyuli community lives on the margins of Uzbek society, often discriminated because of their ethnicity.

The Lyuli are believed to be distantly related to the Roma and Sinti people of Europe and the Middle East, but their origins are obscure. As such, there is currently little consensus on how to best describe this community in English.

In Russian, the most commonly used term is "цыгане" — usually translated into English as "Gypsies", which is widely considered derogatory and has largely been replaced by the word "Roma."

According to a 2019 study conducted by Uzbek researcher Kamilla Zakirova:

"Central Asia's [Roma] are usually called Lyuli. The Lyuli describe themselves using the term Mughat, an Iranian term meaning "fire cult followers," which is applied to Zoroastrians. They have inhabited the territories of Central Asia for centuries, ever since their ancestors migrated from the Punjab in present day Pakistan. There are no accurate contemporary data on the Lyuli population because it does not participate in the government conducted census and many members of the Lyuli population never obtain legal documents". 

The interview is published with permission.

Filip Noubel: What is the main social issue the Lyuli face today?

Aleksandr Barkovsky: The issue of education. There is an unspoken consensus that education is unattainable and partially not needed. The reasons for this lie on both sides, as the Roma people maintain patriarchal traditions and thus the head of the clan, a man who concentrates all the authority, makes decisions not in favour of education but in favour of the rules established in the community. Most people think that as the Lyuli choose not to pursue education, giving them a chance to study and learn different skills is meaningless. Yet if one surveys the community, one can find many Lyuli who want to change their lives. Adults say that they want “a better life for their children,” and understand that the only way to achieve that is to get good quality education.


uzbekistan lyuli minority, uzbekistan small group tours, central asian art craft textiles
Lyuli family in a Russian Orthodox cemetery in Tashkent at Easter, when it is tradition to eat near gravestones.
Image: Aleksandr Barkovsky

 FN: Does that mean Lyuli children really have no access to education?


AB: One of the biggest problems is the fact that Lyuli children are deprived of their childhood. Lyuli families have many children, but only half or even less survive. From the very first weeks of infancy, the mother takes her child downtown where she walks under the scorching sun or in the snow holding her kid in one hand and begging with the other. As a result, children absorb with their mother's milk an image of the world that dominated by begging, deprivation, humiliation, and constant beatings.

FN: What is the status of women in the community?

AB: Women do not have an equal status to men in Roma society. They do not have the same rights, but they have many obligations. They have to give birth to many children whether they want to or not —a large family is a way to gain respect among the community, and the first question [women] get is how many children they have. The only chance for female education is before marriage, and that is extremely rare. Particularly because marriages are held at a very young age; girls are married at the age of 14 or 15.

FN: Does religion play an important role in the life of the Lyuli Roma?

AB: The Lyuli Roma identify as Sunni Muslims. They observe prayers, as well as all the other religious requirements and celebrations. In lay Muslim society they face discrimination from Uzbeks and Tajiks, who do not consider them “real” Muslims because of pagan elements to their religious practices, their caste system, and worship of fire. The Lyuli community's understanding of Islam is more about a popular Islamic spiritualism combined with elements of the pre-Islamic past, which remain to this day in the lives of the Lyuli Roma.


uzbekistan lyuli minority, uzbekistan small group tours, central asian art craft textiles
A Lyuli couple in a tent camp outside Tashkent. Image: Aleksandr Barkovsky


 FN: What is the government's approach to the social issues faced by the community?

AB: The main reason why the Lyuli Roma lack social protection is the simple fact that nobody knows anything about them. Where do they live? How many of them are there? Whatever policy the government implements, it will have no effect. That's why in order to protect their constitutional rights, what's needed is transparency and more information.

Related posts:
Uzbek-Korean Connections
The Greek Community of Uzbekistan
Langston Hughes: An African American Writer in Central Asia in the 1930s