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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

New all-female exhibition in Dubai explores the art of Central Asia

The gallery’s curator Irina Bourmistrova personally travelled to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to discover talent that she could exhibit in Dubai.
Smartphone Poetry by Suinbike Suleimenova. Courtesy Andakulova Gallery
Smartphone Poetry by Suinbike Suleimenova. Courtesy Andakulova Gallery

An elderly woman dressed in the traditional loose garments of a Eurasian nomad, with the distinctive saukele (a tall felt hat) on her head is in the centre of the canvas. She is a traditional Kazakh woman, from a time when tribes wandered the grasslands on horseback, lived in portable houses known as yurts, and relied on nothing but the land for their sustenance.

The image of the woman comes from a 19th-century photograph and has been used by the artist, Saule Suleimenova, as a homage to the past. She has used other photographs, of graffiti in modern-day Almaty, to create a collage effect of the old and new worlds colliding. Over it all, she has painted the endless green of the steppes so that we might wonder whether nature will win the battle against modernity.

It captures the spirit of contemporary Kazakhstan and is one of several interesting works currently on show at Andakulova Gallery in Dubai.

Neither a Shouting Match Nor a Polite Droning is the name of the all-female exhibition, which explores the art of Central Asia. The title refers to an essay by Jane Farver, the late American art critic, who wrote about including the unincluded in artistic dialogue.

Although vast in geography and relatively close to the Middle East, Central Asia remains a largely unknown region in terms of art practice, and due to strict government control, much of the art that has come out of the region has been only of a realist style with no concept or message.

That is what makes this exhibition interesting, because the gallery’s curator, Irina Bourmistrova, personally travelled to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to discover talent that she could exhibit in Dubai.

“There has been no specialised exhibition of female practice in Central Asia until now,” she says.

“We don’t pretend to cover everything, but it is a way to show there are very capable women artists from this region.”

Also featured in the exhibition is Suleimenova’s daughter, Suinbike, who takes inspiration from American artist Richard Prince, and appropriates images from social media and presents them as art.

Her work also features collage, but from today’s globalised standpoint.

The exhibition includes another mother-daughter pairing. Rimma Gagloeva, who was born in 1940 in Tskhinvali, in modern-day Georgia, is the oldest artist in the show. Her paintings are reminiscent of Soviet-style realism in that they are still-life images of flowers, but made from heavy layers of oil paint to the point where they are almost abstract and carry a lot of emotion. They hang next to the work of her daughter, Vera Nechaeva, who also depicts flowers but in a more contemporary way.

Upstairs, you will find the work of identical twin sisters, Galia and Bota Kusainovs. Deaf since infancy, the sisters, from Kazakhstan, have been drawing since they were 3 years old.

They also use traditional colours in their paintings and symbols of their nomadic ancestors, but in some cases, they have made drawings with ball-point pens or used graphics, which means their work is also a bridge between the old and new.

Bakhyt Bubicanova, the final artist in the show, is also interested in the future of nomadic traditions.

Her works are symbolic reminders of a culture that is becoming detached from its roots, at the risk of losing its identity.

The most noteworthy piece is one where she has digitally superimposed a repeated image of herself across an image so that it appears as if she raining down from the sky.

With an obvious influence from surrealism, the artist is clearly questioning her position in the modern world.

“Although there is no thematic link in the show, I think there are several undercurrent connections linking all these artists who are from across different generations and with different backgrounds,” says Bourmistrova.

“The connections are psychological, feminine and emotional but it is a quiet conversation, not a loud polemic, hence the choice of title.

“I wanted the audience to have a chance to reflect on those voices that, until now, have been unincluded.”

Neither a Shouting Match Nor a Polite Droning runs until March 6 at Andakulova Gallery, Damac Park Towers, DIFC, Dubai. www.andakulova.com

aseaman@thenational.ae