'What's going on in Kazakhstan?' A passing thought I had recently has led me to discover a few truly amazing things happening in the Central Asian contemporary arts and culture scene. First, I came across a unique and fascinating series of projects being initiated by groups of local and international artist/intellectuals based in the region, including US native, artist Daniel Gallegos. Gallegos' latest collaborative cultural project, 'The Borrowed Kazan,' took place in the centre of a bazaar in Osh, Kyrgyzstan this September, when he and a small group of fellow 'art anthropologists' opened a small restaurant there for a week with two major aims — to investigate the local food system and to collaboratively engage people through food.
There's a blog for 'The Borrowed Kazan,' but with the sum-up still in the works, I've turned my attention to another art venture that Gallegos was involved in last year. This one, 'Graffiti,' was sponsored in part by the US embassy, and centred on the graffiti art scene in Kazakhstan. It turns out that graffiti emerged in Kazakhstan in the early 90s with the growing influence of the US sub-cultures of break-dancing and hip-hop. And so this particular project strove to create dialogue amongst local artists with those from the home of hip-hop culture.
The organizers revealed the more overarching aim, when they described Graffiti as 'a platform for self-expression, dialogue and reflection on graffiti and, taken more widely — freedom, market, and modern art.' And since Gallegos started his own artistic career as a graffiti artist, he was asked to take part.
When I got in touch with him, he explained to me how he first found a like-minded group of collaborators in Central Asia.
'We are all friends from different paths of life that share a common interest in cities and the use of art and anthropology as tools to make art projects,' he told me. 'We keep a very solid core of members to stay focused and organized.'
Gallegos added: 'We try to have locals work with us as well. Our approach is a community based project. We're artists that work with and for the community.'
One of the local artists on the Graffiti project was Kazakhstan artist Konan (Kuanysh Orynbasarov), who had some more specific thoughts on his chosen platform and native country:
'It's very different here. Our people don't give a damn about politics. It's important to express our culture.Of course, we are the descendants of American culture. We took their culture and are showing it in our own way. Our culture — through their language.'
Daniel Gallegos is part of the art/sociology collective, Artpologist. There is more about the graffiti project and others at their website: artpologist.com.