My Silk Road to You, is the first solo exhibition of the artist Almagul Menlibayeva.
Menlibayeva films mythological narratives placed and staged in the vast landscape of her native Kazakhstan ravaged by 60 years of Soviet occupation. She leads her audience to the brutally changed region of the Aral Sea where its indigenous people live in the Aralkum, the desert of a once thriving region now entirely devoid of water due to radical Soviet irrigation politics.
The region of Transoxiana (Greek for ‘across the Oxus’) in southwestern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, once the eastern part of the Hellenistic regime under Alexander the Great and the former homeland of the nomadic tribes of Persia and Turan at the banks of the Oxus River, remained an important trade region along the Northern Silk Road with flourishing civilizations and fertile plains for many centuries. Afflicted by former Soviet policies and abandoned by commercial and cultural interests, today, Transoxiana lies bare and stripped in a surreal state of existence with discarded fishing fleets on dusty terrain, cleaved by metal scavengers while its inhabitants look on as the sea keeps receding into a far and unreachable distance of a seemingly better world.
In her video “Transoxiana Dreams”, screened at MoMA PS1 as part of EXPO IN 2013, and accompanying photographs, Menlibayeva tells the tale of a young fisherman’s daughter who observes the dramatic changes to the landscape of the Aral region and its population through a child’s eyes in a dreamlike mélange of documentary and fantasy. Menlibayeva visually walks the viewer through a vacant landscape and a symbolic dream whereby the girl’s father searches for the remaining sea and new fishing grounds while encountering strange and seductive four- legged female creatures (Centaurs) on his way through the hostile desert. Drawing on the image of the Greek mythological figure of the Centaur, Menlibayeva creates alluring hybrid beings, both sexually charged and bizarre alike. According to the legend, when the ancient Greeks first encountered the nomads of the Transoxianian Steppes on their horses, they initially believed them to be mythological quadruped, part person part animal, fearing their savage and magical powers.
In From My Silk Road to you, Menlibayeva, a pictorial sorceress herself, breeds an eccentric storyline and fantastical imagery extracted deeply from her own atavistic repertoire, and leading visionally through an existing, yet unimaginable landscape in a distant and hypnagogic world.