Erbossyn Meldibekov

Born: 1964, Tyulkubas (Kazakhstan)
Video Art

Erbossyn Meldibekov was born in the town of Tyulkubas in southern Kazakhstan in 1964. A sculptor, video artist and photographer, he studied at the Department of Monumental Sculpture at the Institute of Theatre and Art in Alma Ata from 1987 to 1992. In 2005, he trained at the Vermont Studio Residency for visual artists. Erbossyn Meldibekov lives and works in Alma Ata.

Meldibekov’s precise and powerful images concentrate the essence of a reality created by a medieval authoritarian system, which shocks the West, and an understanding of the West’s own generalised image of Central Asia. The artist works with the structures of the national unconscious and images of aggression, which includes burying people up to their necks in sand. As Erbossyn explains, this can be traced back to the time of the nomads – since then virtually nothing has changed. Despite the collapse of the Soviet system in Central Asia, the Party secretaries remained in power, establishing archaic and autocratic regimes in which Communism, Islam and paganism battle against each another.

Erbossyn Meldibekov’s images of Asia are a hard-to-swallow psycho-aesthetic cocktail, mixing aggression and submission with the reality of the government crackdowns on citizens in Andizhan and Bishkek. His art is deafeningly visual and direct. This is the art of direct action, excluding admiration or aesthetic quests. For Meldibekov, violence as a form of primitive power is linked to instincts and the eastern disposition. Therefore, he transforms violence into art. An emotional response to his provocative denunciations is far more important for the artist than purely professional issues. Erbossyn’s exact and powerful images capture the essence of a shocking reality, created by a medieval authoritarianism, and the West’s own generalised image of Central Asia.

Erbossyn Meldibekov’s Pastan video project is a provocative and honest work dealing with aggression, which the artist regards as the main content of the Asian collective unconscious. He recorded a performance which he held on the main square in Bishkek, two weeks after a bloody crackdown there. In the video, Erbossyn creates an image of Asia as a hard-to-swallow psycho-aesthetic cocktail, in which aggression and obedience mix with the reality of mass reprisals against the people of Andijan and Bishkek.

Meldibekov’s striking images were the emblem of the Central Asian pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. Art tourists asked him: “Where are you from, from what country?” Erbossyn replied: “I am from Pastan.” The Europeans nodded their heads knowingly: “Ah, Pastan!” … recognising the phonetic outlines of a Central Asian tyranny and mentally placing “Pastan” alongside Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Erbossyn’s art is stunningly visual and direct. It is direct-impact art, excluding admiration or aesthetic quests. For him, violence as a form of pristine power is linked to the instincts and to the eastern model of self-feeling. That is why he transforms violence into art. The emotional response to the provocative revelation of the situation is, for the artist, more important than the inner issues of art.

Erbossyn incarnates a real situation in the space of art, revealing and presenting it to the viewer. Reality in this form generally turns out to be unbearable, evoking the repulsion of the viewer. Such a true reaction – on the level of instinct – means that it has scored a direct hit in terms of national issues.

How does eastern art differ from western art? Meldibekov believes that the main difference is the former’s mobility. The aesthetic authenticity of the East is tied in with the applied use of art and the possibility of a work finding itself on the body or in the hand, decorating a horse or a conversation, but not hanging on a wall, as in the West. Because a nomad does not have a wall. What he does have is the hot earth, stone, sand and the air shimmering in the heat.

Erbossyn Meldibekov’s Black Square (2005) is a dynamic figure of Central Asian avant-garde aestheticism, briefly formed by black corpse worms, who devour dead flesh before crawling back into the earth. From the eastern tradition of art, as if in motion, a shocking reinterpretation of Kazimir Malevich’s avant-garde icon arises like a figure of breakdown and decomposition. Like something mobile and short-lived, preceding a return to primeval immutability, to the dust, to non-existence, to the soil.

The authoritarian systems of Central Asia need an institutional counterweight. But what counterweight can there be in a country where there is no democratic opposition? The artist believes that a country with an archaic authoritarian system, employing bloody suppressions and brute force, inevitably creates opposition in the form of radical Islam.

Hypermuslim (2006) is the male half of a project addressing the corporeal realities of Pastan. Circumcised in childhood, the artist performs a repeat circumcision on himself, as if intensifying his physical belonging to Islam. The viewer is presented with a documentary account of this process. The female half of the project records the operation to restore a woman’s virginity, something in great demand thanks to radical Islam.

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