From surrealism to stone: a peek at Kazakh-Kyrgyz art

ART REVIEW

November 10, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Ask most Americans where Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are, and you'd be hard-pressed to get the right answer. And fewer still are likely to ever visit either of the two central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. But art knows no boundaries and speaks a universal language, so what better way to initiate an acquaintance than to organize an exchange of exhibitions?

That's exactly what Camellia Blackwell of the International Center for Artistic Development, in Greenbelt, and her Kazakh counterpart, Madina Aimambetova, have done; the result, on this side of the world, is the Traveling Exhibition of Kazakh-Kyrgyz Art now at Morgan State University. (In turn, an exhibition of American art will be visiting those republics.)

And it's good to have this glimpse of art from other cultures, even if the exhibit may seem lopsided and uneven. By my count, the three painters and two sculptors are each represented by anywhere from one to 18 works -- surely a more equitable distribution could have been worked out. (The sixth participant makes jewelry and objets d'art out of a stone known as "landscape chalcedony.")

Abdrashid Sydykhanov, the best-represented artist, is a painter who employs heavy impasto together with foreign objects -- staples, tacks, pieces of fabric, colored glass, candy wrappers, etc. -- to build images that relate to Kazakh legends. For those who know the legends, there must be immediate identification with the artist's spider, butterfly, bird and other figures; for those who do not, Sydykhanov's works will perhaps have something of the look of colorful, imaginative illustrations of fantasy stories.

Uristanbek Shigaev may be the most interesting of the six artists for American viewers. His work is said to combine traditional Kyrgyz painting styles with Egyptian and Ethiopian influences. One can certainly see the Egyptian influence in such images as the bird-headed figure of "Queen." His imagery is more interesting when it is less derivative and more individual, as with the somewhat surrealistic "Valley of Death."

It's a pity that the other artists are less well-represented. Tokoblat Togizbajev's paintings are interiors and exteriors filled with pattern. They are influenced by the Kazakh yurt, or tent, but Western viewers may be faintly reminded of Matisse, only with a darker, more somber palette.

Askar Yesenbayev's bronzes will perhaps look the most familiar to us. His "Aged Hunter," for instance, has a somewhat stylized form that one associates with early to mid-20th-century figural sculpture. It's not really possible to form much of an opinion of Erkin Mergenov from the one sculpture in evidence here.

The show may not be ideal, but its organizers can be commended for having brought it off at all and encouraged to bring us more.

Kazakh-Kyrgyz Art

Where: The James E. Lewis Museum, Carl Murphy Auditorium and Fine Arts Building, Morgan State University.

When: Mondays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Nov. 30.

Call: (410) 319-3030.

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