by Laura Fanti
Semi-serious conversation with Almagul Menlibayeva. Because art is a serious matter but the spirit even more. When art is able to open the passage for the spirit, we can try to immerse ourselves once again in the primordial waters and the bare earth but only if we stop being robots. Her favourite work is performance, the generative act, where individualism is erased to mate room mystical union with the world in all of its forms. After decades of performance and Body Art, the activity of Almagul is neither trivial nor repetitive at all, it does not resemble to anything else, especially for knotting in a radical way to Suﬁ and peoples of the steppe’s culture.
Laura Fanti: Which is the atmosphere that people breath in Kazakhstan, mostly compared to Europe and United States? So, how do you see western people?
Almagul Menlibayeva: Each of the countries you mentioned is different. However, I can compare them to various parts of the body: they are all different but ultimately related to each other. In the twenty-ﬁrst century we are all one but there is neither East nor the West, there is the modern man, confused by the new religion called ‘consumerism’, and he does not know where to go. We are all falling down together in the same black hole.
Kazakhstan for me consists of three components that are like a family: his young daughter, the independent central Asia, ruled by his father, ex-Communist and the ancient primordial grandmother in whose eyes the blue sky and the endless steppe reﬂect. Father and daughter hope prosperity. They have many hopes and desires and fear many at the same time, but also produce and consume oil aid gas and other things that are part of a ‘new world order’. Of these three I love the “grandmother”, which is the ancient tradition and speaks through the ancestors. As I see Western people? People!
Democracy is an important step to build individuality, which is not an easy process for the risk of drowning and getting lost in the ‘selfishness of your own ego’.
Your photos and your videos are always connected with your origin, your tradition, but even with the question of identity, which naturally derives from the other two. You work with the notion of identities as well, even religious and sexual. Which are the relationships between the first question (national identity) and the other (identities more in general)? And related to mentality of your country?
I am interested only in matters that are beyond sex and death. At the same time the artist is very often influenced by his or her personal live story. My life was like a hot dog where my childhood was a sausage insight the bread of a strange social experiment on the gigantic scale. That was a USSR. And deep down insight this sandwich I saw the light from a “Peri” who descended on me from the shamanic Sufi world hidden but always present.
That is why my work is a process of recollection of my mystical nature. The ritual, which in contemporary vocabulary of art becomes a performance, my origin and tradition is one of my artistic tools. For me art is love…. I like to work in the nature with naked bodies. There they become a part of a landscape. Perhaps it is because I am just a painter.
You often talk about steppe peris, who are a kind of creatures between angels and fairies, coming to visit mortals on earth…could you please tell me something else about them? And about their power in your work?
The myths are realities of our psychic powers. I have a very personal relationship with myths. You made the case that modern men are without mysticism? They increasingly use their left brain. Are tuning more more more robots in urine, defecation and multiply. I am disappointed and confused. I turned in a Peri, which is like a nymph or a Western geisha heavenly. This is my mystical emanation. But for robot all is only a fable. The Peri are present in many popular stories in Eurasia, from Korea to the Caucasus. In Central Asia they assist the shaman but they are invisible; when they become visible their beauty is stunning. Sometimes they can harm humans by their decision to bring him off mind. This man has no choice but to become a shaman. The Peri may take the form of an animal or a bird. May have a sexual contact with people, children born from these contacts are special people. My Peri are modern, they live in our time trying to deal with modern society. They have important things to say ‘that never die’, and in my opinion, art and creativity belong to them and not to us because they know what is behind the sex and death.
You spoke of mysticism and its absence in modern culture. Do you believe that art is the only way to achieve mystical or that there are other ways to bring it closer?
Art is a mean to achieve a mystical state. This process is very personal. Furthermore, I believe that art belongs there. We expect and we try to achieve it. I feel closer to the way in which Zen and Suﬁ relate to art. Art has a lot of power when it is truth. Art can kill or make you ﬂy. Is not wonderful?
When we lost the sense of mysticism? When did this process begin? Assuming, of course, that we can determine the beginning of this loss…
Our conversation is becoming more philosophical. We are often afraid of approaching the unknown. This is because over time we separate art from life. Art became a gadget. But we still admire the art of the past, even if the artefacts are “prehistoric”… or look at the art of the nomads of Central Asia: they see each other as part of nature, that’s why their art is natural, mystical, spiritual and much more …
The concept of metamorphosis has great importance in you work, you use it to remind us that we are not robots! You’re forced to use a camera or other instruments. What is your relationship with the media? And when you decide that an image can be reproduced? And, when the metamorphosis can be stopped? What happens in your mind, when you need to decide to lock in a photo or an image in your work and its spiritual meaning?
The ﬁrst important thing is to be clear and simple. The concept should not be adapted to the market. The media are just a tool, a tool to create a dimension or a position that can be a ﬁlm, a painting or a photo. I feel like an animal that gives birth to his creature/creation. I just feel when accomplished. When it comes out it can be independent.