GULNARA KASMALIEVA and MURAT DJUMALIEV, Shadows, 1999, photo documentation of performance, series of four: 75 × 50 cm each. Courtesy the artists.


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Krygyzstan is unique in the region for its relatively free and fair parliamentary elections, the second round of which were held in October. Despite lingering issues surrounding poverty and economic development, this diverse nation is home to a dynamic and growing contemporary art community centered in the capital Bishkek.

In Bishkek, the Gapar Aitiev Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts houses an extensive collection of 20th-century Kyrgyz and Russian art. In 2015, the museum held survey exhibitions of graphic artists Lidia Ilyina Alexandrovna and Theodor Herzen and sculptor Turgunbay Sadykov, as well as a solo exhibition of works by painter Dzhunusheva Zhakshybeka (9/18–11/15). It also hosted the second Bishkek Design Festival (11/20–22), which included an exhibition and educational program of talks and master classes by experts from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkey. 

The country’s leading NGO is the Bishkek Art Center (B’Art), founded in the fall of 2006 by artist Shaarbek Amankul, a member of the Artists’ Union of the Kyrgyzstan. In 2012, the Bishkek Art Center was re-envisioned as B’Art Contemporary, which continues ongoing efforts to organize contemporary art activities, projects and programs with other sectors of society. 

In August, B’Art organized the fifth Nomadic Art Camp (8/3–10) on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, which brought together 10 artists from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Germany, Switzerland and France to create collaborative works under themes of nature, heritage, culture and diversity. Results of the workshop were presented at the National Museum (8/14). In 2015, B’Art also commenced Project Caravan, a collaboration with filmmaker Sophie Dia Pegrum of the Horsefly Films Rare Equine Trust on a documentary film about the horse culture of Kyrgyzstan. 

Established in 2012, the School of Theory and Activism Bishkek is an arts initiative that focuses on promoting
political and societal awareness within Central Asia through experimental contemporary art. Its program includes an artist residency and a series of animation workshops engaging with critical themes in Kyrgyz society. 

Independent art space Loft continues to host various cultural events in Bishkek. Also in Bishkek is the Koldo Art Gallery, headed by Anar Madalieva, which showcases contemporary works by local artists.

The American University of Central Asia in Bishkek presented the group show “Topografica” (11/2–12/5), curated by Ulan Djaparov, showing more than 25 artists from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the United States, including Said Atabekov, Gulnara Kasmalieva and Murat Djumaliev, and Yelena and Victor Vorobyev. The show explored Central Asia’s regional relationship to global currents, with works going back to the 1990s, such as Kasmalieva and Djumaliev’s performance series “Shadows” (1999).

Abroad, the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan hosted the exhibition of modern Kyrgyz art “Posttotal” (6/25–8/28), which included more than 100 paintings, installations and photos by 42 Kyrgyz artists. 

In Europe, artist Shaarbek Amankul participated in the group show “Balagan!!! Contemporary Art from the Former Soviet Union and Other Mythical Places,” at the Norwind Festival, curated by David Elliott, in Berlin (11/14–12/23). The Centre d’Art Contemporain in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, presented “Pas de Deux – KG. CH” (11/28–2/14/16), an exhibition of Kyrgyz contemporary art featuring Bermet Borubaeva, Meka Muratova, Dmitri Perovski, Marat Raiymkulov and others.

Looking ahead, B’Art is gearing up for the sixth Nomadic Art Camp scheduled for late summer 2016 and is currently looking for curators, art critics or gallerists interested
in collaborating on the event.