States of the Arts


A New Silk Road: Racing

by Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev

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A lorry advances, hauling a heavy cargo. The inky silhouette of a slender horse follows in the foreground, transporting a red-shirted rider through the historic Silk Road trade route. If there is a race being run here, the victor is secondary to the track upon which the sprint plays out. The surrounds resemble a geological cross-section, comprising tiers of silver sky, swooping hills, and well-trod earth. The layers of landscape have stood as a constant backdrop to the path’s travellers, past and present. Cutting through an indigo haze of road dust, though, the crimson equestrian draws our focus firmly to the contemporary.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains

directed by Sadyk Sher-Niyaz
Feature film

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Two figures race across mountainous terrain on horseback. Kurmanjan, wife of the local Datka, is in desperate flight. Her husband has been killed only moments earlier, following failed attempts to bring together the disparate communities of the region. The horseman in pursuit seeks to deal a second fatal blow. Cymbals crash and strings pace in furious cycles, while lush slopes, steep cliffs, and dark conifers mark the path of the relentless chase. As the fate of many hangs in balance, Kurmanjan gallops headlong towards unification, leadership, and legend.

Words by Hugh Maloney


by Chingiz Aitmatov

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A portrait is described in meticulous detail, though the work’s significance is not immediately apparent. The observer, Seit, halts his analysis, acknowledging its digressive nature, and turns to the focus of his story: his sister-in-law, Jamila. Seit divulges how, neglected as her husband fought on the front line, Jamila became infatuated with Daniyar, her friend and lover. Meanwhile, inspired by the beauty of their relationship, Seit took to painting. As the love he witnesses burns brighter, his abilities transform and his colours grow ever more vivid.

Words by Hugh Maloney

Kökötöidün Ashy

by Tengir-Too

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The Epic of Manas is woven into Kyrgyzstan’s national identity, having been passed on orally for centuries by nomadic singers and poets. Tengir-Too, a musical ensemble named after a towering mountain range, have also left their mark on the tale. Repeated, meditative phrases are played on flutes and mouth harp, forming a sombre, marching prelude to the story of Kökötöi’s memorial banquet. The recitation unfolds over a bowed drone, characterised by strident rhythms. The vocal theatrics befit this dramatic account of the rise of Manas, its hero.

Words by Hugh Maloney

More to discover

A New Silk Road: Racing: You can read more about this series of photographs on the Winkleman Gallery website here. Lisa Dorin has written about Kasmalieva and Djumaliev for Nafas Art Magazine, as has an unknown author for ARTMargins

Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains: You can view the trailer here, and watch the full film (with English subtitles) here. Carlos Aguilar has interviewed the director for IndieWire, and Bakyt Ibraimov has written about the film's funding for The Guardian.

Jamila: You can read an excerpt on Amazon here, and read an analysis of the novel by Iraj Bashiri here.

Kökötöidün Ashy: Articles about Tengir-Too include one written by Michael Church for The Independent, and another on the Aga Khan Trust for Culture website.

Question of the day

Which Kyrgyzstani artworks would you recommend, and why?
Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

Sham, a work of visual art by Shaarbek Amankul. This Bishkek-based artist documents intriguing fragments of events through video; Sham is hypnotic and unnerving.

– Emma McKinlay, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Patreon →)

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