New Emissary

Bittersweet Kyrgyzstan

The setting of an art project in Kyrgyzstan’s been destroyed. But hopefully not all is lost.

Last year, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fascinating series of art projects taking place in Central Asia, including one that aimed to bring graffiti art into the wider community in Kazakhstan. At the time, I got in touch with one of the organizers of some of the events, Daniel Gallegos, who is a member to the Artpologist collective, a group of ‘artists and social scientists that combine art and anthropology to engage in the visual exploration of urban landscapes.’

Gallegos also spoke to me then about a festival in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, he’d attended, where he was excited to discover another thriving modern art movement amongst the city’s youth.

So a few months ago, I was ecstatic to see one of my favourite publications, Good magazine, cover Artpologist and its work. But when Kyrgyzstan’s riots erupted in April, I thought about Daniel and his friends and collaborators, and hoped that they were all safe and well.

Well I recently heard from Daniel again, and was sad to hear that the setting for Artpologist’s most recent project, a marketplace in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, had been completely destroyed by gangs during the uprisings.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

An image of a grey and charred aftermath of the area featured in the New York Times was heartbreaking. And I was further saddened to read in the accompanying article that, despite all of the ethnic tensions rife in the country today, this market, ‘one of the largest trading centres in the region,’ had been a place where an array of vendors and customers of various ethnicities, including ‘Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Russians, Chinese and even an American’ came together and in some cases were even like family.

But it does seem that some members of the Osh market community who spoke to the press are at least showing optimism and determination to rebuild. And as a bittersweet but powerful piece, Artpologist now has on their updated website a summary of the project, entitled The Borrowed Kazan. The unique venture, which took place in September 2009, involved Artpologist members trying to engage with the residents of Osh, ‘through the medium of food.’ They opened a street café as an art installation in the middle of the bazaar, and interacted with locals ‘from all walks of life’ through serving foods and generating conversation.

Next week I’ll have more on the project from my last conversation with Daniel, and talk about how the situation in Kyrgyzstan has affected him and his collaborators.