Gulnur Mukazhanova works with traditional Central Asian materials, like felt and brocade, subverting their conventional uses in domestic environments by using them to create complex installations and props for her photo and video projects. In her works the focus shifts from the material itself to its performative quality, catching the material in its transitional state. Her home country of Kazakhstan, which itself is in the process of transition, is often a subject of her research into the perspectives of globalization and identity politics. The resulting works have a very strong physical presence and allow the artist to make powerful statements on the state of global affairs through the lens of her own country.
“The Space of Silence” exhibition will include Gulnur Mukazhanova’s paintings, photographs and video. Her paintings from the Post-Nomadic Reality series made of fine merino wool and silk, felted by hand were inspired by traditional Kazakh wall hangings Tuskyiz. “Tus” translates from Kazakh as “sleep”, and “kyiz” – “felt”. The rectangular blocks of colours resemble doors or portals that remain tightly shut or closed to our consciousness and can only be accessed through our dreams.
The borders of the portals in Mukazhanova’s works are not precise: the wool and silk fibers are layered in such a way that the boundaries of the rectangles blur creating a watercolour-like effect. We have an impression of facing a haze or an illusion. Reality seems to be collapsing before our eyes, but we are not certain if external factors are to blame – the properties of paint or atmospheric phenomena – or if it is our own vision that is letting us down. The paintings perfectly convey the state of anxiety and fragility.
Appealing to the viewer’s senses in her Post-Nomadic Reality series Gulnur Mukazhanova continues the tradition of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, who directly engaged with the viewer’s eyesight. Using warm felt material, Mukazhanova adds an element of tactility to her works: looking at her paintings, we involuntarily imagine how it feels to touch felt. This way, her abstract works acquire a human and bodily aspect.
Mukazhanova’s photographs and video from her Global Society series, began in 2013 is a reflection on “mankurtism” and the loss of national identity. “Mankurtism” is a term coined by the Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aytmatov, that denotes a conscious or unconscious loss of national identity, a departure from one’s roots and the loss of one’s culture, with the replacement and introduction of the values of another culture. The video, filmed in Berlin, the author’s new city of residence, shows people in an urban environment putting on and taking off their masks. The process of putting masks on and off speaks of the paradox of self-colonization, when the subject readily seeks and accepts its master, in this case globalization.
The title of Gulnur Mukazhanova’s exhibition which runs through the artist’s works in a variety of media as a common thread. The culture of silence and suppression of dissenting voices, emanating both from the system of power and people themselves, generates deep problems in a society. At the same time, the aesthetics of silence in art and philosophy is associated with the spiritual beginning – with a more intuitive and fulfilled presence in the world. Regardless of which type of silence surrounds us, according to the American poet Adrienne Rich: “The impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence.” And this hope for change is conveyed in the present exhibition.
My canvases are inspired by the traditional nomadic carpets. They were very bright, ornamental and full of meaning in the past, today I see them in monochrome tones, thus wanting to convey the “emptiness” of our time, which means loss… And which, I hope, will lead to a rethinking of values… That is the reason why it is so important for me, to show these works in Kazakhstan.Gulnur Mukazhanova
About the Artist
Gulnur Mukazhanova was born in 1984 in Semey, Kazakhstan. She lives and works in Berlin since 2008. Notable recent exhibitions include Bread & Roses at the Momentum in Berlin (2018), Post- Nomadic Mind at the Wapping Project in London (2018), 4th International Biennale for Young Art in Moscow (2014) and Central Asia Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).
Exhibition dates: 1 July – 12 September 2021