22.06.2017 – 26.07.2017 Esentai gallery, Almaty, Kazakhstan. Curator – Valeriya Ibrayeva
The exhibition includes paintings (borsch on starched sheets), photo panel, work “You are supposed to be a girl” and installation of floor rags (readymade items with additional elements).
This is an attempt to research and deconstruct gender stereotypes by the methods of art, without abandoning the imposed symbols, but using them as artistic tools. So, borsch – a symbol of kitchen slavery, being a vivid substance, serves as a paint, a starched bed sheet turns out to be a perfectly suitable canvas, and a twisted rag turns into a flower. The symbolic cover is a poppy field with a recognizable toilet standing solitary out there and bearing the intentionally swapped “ж” and “м” – the field as a battlefield, a symbol of the time of maturation, when “ж” are becoming more aware of their differences and the restrictions imposed by society. “м” is made into a cult, and all the borscht and starched sheets, all the blood and endless work in the field of cleanliness are dedicated to him. Lying in the languid postures of Venus and Olympia, turning into Leda and Madonna, he now acquires the halo of a religious fetish, becomes the supreme being of this kitchen universe. But somewhere in the middle deification turns into objectification, and the viewer catches himself thinking about homoeroticism, discovering how natural it is to attribute the objectivizing view to the “male” nature, assigning “female” only household functions. Even the pathos of the “higher feminine predestination” proves to be only a service as well. It is a solemn podium here, a wedding vignette of flowers, made from dirty floor rags. They are also found in the alcove, the “censored” part of the exhibition, in a dialogue with the dominating “Origin of the World,” painted by the same borsch on the starched, old bed sheets that have seen a lot.
Acting as a housewife, exhausted with scrubbing of the floors, cooking and endless washing of clothes; a housewife, who is also the subject of her husband’s sexual aspirations – the artist tries to turn this complex of efforts into art, i.e. combine daily life with her practice as an artist. At the same time, she does not fly in the “beautiful” clouds in order to abandon her chores, at least in imagination, but, with brutal persistence, turns everyday objects into tools for creating magical beauty that is deliberately rude and ridiculous.
Forming a vignette backdrop for a festive photograph, roses made of floor rags are in bloom on a wall; washed out sheets and duvet covers, each with its own individual story (sewed by the grandma, given by mum), have been turned into canvases; the poppy field becomes a field of tactical training, defining the border between the masculine and the feminine.
Sitting in front of Esentai Moll, a naked bronze woman by the famous Fernando Botero causes no surprise or indignation – Almaty is not Astana. Just as numerous Venus figures in museums, Graces or Sabine women, the iconography of woman’s objectification has an extensive history, and not only in art. A series of portraits of Anton, Zoya’s boyfriend, is the result of continuous observations; a strong, accurate portrayal; an almost forgotten skill of transferring the similarity and plasticity of a body. Well, of course, the reversals in the relationship of artist and model, man and woman, sexism and equality, domestic slavery and freedom of creativity.
Nevertheless, from the beginning, the eye catches the washed spots of menstrual blood on a once cheerful, flower-dotted, old (and real) sheet. But the artist’s naturalism extends much further – blood has long been a technique employed by contemporary artists. Many artists painted with it – from Hermann Nitsch from Austria to Sergei Maslov from Kazakhstan. Menstrual blood is an important symbol of feminist art – it is also used quite often, especially by Americans, the last example is the portrait of Trump by Sarah Levy. But we, here in Kazakhstan, are going the other way: domestic chores, cooking, washing turn out to be much more oppressive than the president’s sexist remarks.
The nimbus of borsch surrounds the head of Anton-Madonna with Cat; beet-colored waves flood the torso of Anton-Venus in front of a Mirror and drape Anton-Leda and the Swan; shades of tomato paste brown the feet of Anton-Sleeping Venus. The apotheosis is a version of “The Origin of the World” by G. Kurbe, placed in the altar part of the exhibition structure and reliably closed off by the altar wall. As you know, only men are allowed in this sacred part of the temple, but thank God, the inscription on the altar wall warns: “Censored.” Yes, the “Origin of the World” is not erect, therefore, there are no reasons for criminal prosecution, according to the law on pornography of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The sexual life of Kazakhstan people is a mystery behind the seven seals, despite the fact that the world sexual revolution occurred in the 60s of the last century and was followed by a surge of feminism and various movements for the equal rights of all oppressed minorities. This theme is still a taboo for our mass-media, public discussions, system of school education and even for art. Although we can recall the episode when the well-known art critic Bayan Barmankulova, objecting to the indignant visitors of the exhibition “Chinese Erotic Art,” asked a counter question: “What, the Kazakhs have procreated, haven’t they?” On the other hand, we are much more aware of the results of this secret life. Babies thrown into toilets, brutal group rape, kidnapping of girls – all is the results of this knowledge. As well as of borshch, beshbarmak, lagman, vodka, male domination, lack of real equality, ignorance and hypocrisy.