Almagul Menlibayeva at Aga Khan Museum

Menlibayeva’s photographic series, Nomadized Suprematism, shows studies of decolonial and nomadic aesthetics placed within the dynamic context of post-socialist, contemporary Kazakhstan. Born in 1969, in Almaty, Kazakhstan with Kazakh-German roots, Menlibayeva’s work analyzes the historical shifts between cultural establishments and the sacrifice for survival in post-socialist Central Asia, inviting us to take a different look at the Silk Roads and showing how the changes touched its ancient people. With education in the Soviet avant-garde school of Futurism, Menlibayeva draws inspiration from enduring mythologies and geopolitics and builds a bridge between past and present. This exhibition brings awareness about the post-Soviet experiences of the native Kazakh people, who are re-establishing their identity after 80 years of Soviet domination and cultural genocide.

Installation view of Almagul Menlibayeva, Nomadized Suprematism at the Aga Khan Museum

Menlibayeva specializes in site-specific, multi-channel video installations, immersive digital media, photography, and contemporary textile art; integrating all into video installations. By expanding artistic horizons using AI technology, this masterpiece of an exhibition critically examines Soviet modernity and post-socialist Central Asian transformations and offers decolonial perspectives on gender, environmental issues, and Eurasian mythologies.

Almagul Menlibayeva, I’m waiting for you, 2010.

The linen-wrapped figures speak to stories of preservation and rebirth. The linen is worn out, like the ruins in the background—a reminder of the impact of colonialism and the oppression of ancient practices. The artist’s work deepens with a personal perspective and lets the viewer see that the women depicted in this series are symbols in search of a new sense of humanity—responding with new identities to the dystopian rise after the collapse of modern utopian ideals. The artist uses close friends and family members (women) as models. These photographs radiate feelings of tribute to the remaining figures of the ancestral tree of today’s Kazakhstan and to the artist’s relations.

Almagul Menlibayeva, Global Entry, 2010.

“The Bus Stop (Konehchnaya)” documents a former Soviet nuclear test site, where, between 1949 and 1989, 456 explosions (underground and atmospheric) were carried out. The entire area of 16,000 square kilometres served as the scientific center of the city and was usually indicated on maps as “Final” or “End”.

Almagul Menlibayeva, The Bus Stop (Konehchnaya) (End), 2018

Another work that demonstrates this ecological disaster is “Malevich Tank”, 2011, where a piece of an industrial gas tank, with a soviet cartoon on it, was left untouched in this location, almost as if it had set its roots into the ground, becoming one with the land where it was once foreign.

Almagul Menlibayeva, Malevich Tank, 2011

Almagul Menlibayeva’s work combines narrative construction and socio-political commentary, putting women at the centre for their role of weaving heritage and culture with social and political change.

Almagul Menlibayeva, Transoxiana Dreams, 2011

Since the collapse of Soviet rule, many mosques were never completed or removed. This is an interesting transition because it is another short-lived time that has marked the land and the life of people living there for generations. Perhaps the artist is trying to tell us that some monuments are meant to stay to show us what a decolonial process might look like even after empires fall. In other words, it doesn’t rewind time and take everything back to its original place but rather gives a perspective on how to move forward to rebuild with what has been left behind.  

Installation view of Almagul Menlibayeva, Nomadized Suprematism at the Aga Khan Museum

Nomadized Suprematism serves as a voice, that empowers a cultural exodus that makes us question who we are and where are we going.

Polyna Alexseev

Images are: Aga Khan Museum Exhibition Contact Photography Festival Park Tunnel. Photo: Aly Manji.

*Exhibition information: Almagul Menlibayeva, Nomadized Suprematism, May 1 – June 12, 2024, Almagul Menlibayeva, My Silk Road to You is open till September 3, 2024, Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive, Toronto. Museum hours: Tue & Thu – Sun 10:30 am – 5:30 pm, Wed 10 am – 8 pm.

The exhibitions are part of CONTACT Photography Festival.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *