Said Atabekov 66 Lbs

6 Mar — 12 May 2017 at the Andakulova Gallery in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Said Atabekov 66 Lbs, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Andakulova Gallery
Said Atabekov 66 Lbs, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Andakulova Gallery
13 MAR 2017

Said Atabekov – a true star of contemporary art scene in Kazakhstan and internationally.

Solo show 66 Lbs by Said Atabekov, curated by I.Y. Bourmistrova, will feature photo, video and site – specific installation to reflect on ancient nomadic tradition of Kazakhstan the game of Kokpar. Kokpar is a Kazakh game played on horseback in which two teams compete to carry a headless goat carcass over the goal line.

The title of the exhibition 66 Lbs is coming from mandatory weight of the animal carcass used for the game and cannot be just any weight. Heft is mandatory! It must weigh 66 pounds.

Battle scenes have been with us for a long time and usually commemorate the decisive turning point of a battle and serve as the agrandissement of the warfare and celebration of mythological or actual victories. Florentine painter Ucello and his famous Battle of San Romano introduced a new subject into 15th century Renaissance art – the battle, the painting of an actual event. There were of course much earlier examples like the mosaic from Pompeii dated first century BC representing the battle of Alexander the Great against King Darius (III) as well as the illuminated pages from the Shahnama (Book of Kings).

What is always palpable in battle scenes through the mess, squalor and the sheer disorganisation of the battle is a visual emphasis on the union between the riders and horses, sometimes with bleeding torn bodies, continuing to do battle even as the rider insists to continue in battle.

Battle scenes on horses are almost an extinct genre of art partly because the horse is no longer significant as an implement of war. The solo exhibition 66 Lbs by Said Atabekov reintroduces this genre back in to the contemporary field. The series of photographic works depicting the national game of Kokpar with its roots which run deep into warfare became a conceptual resource for the artist to showcase this Central Asian sport in all its complexity.

Kokpar is a Kazakh game played on horseback in which two teams compete to carry a headless goat carcass over the goal line. The origins of the game Kokpar are thought to date back to the time of Alexander the Great, when the nomadic horsemen fought against Alexander’s Army. The game is also sometimes associated with Genghis Khan.

The game of Kokpar was always a very popular theme among the Kazakhstan’s master painters who wanted to depict this national sport and capture the thrill of the game and the bravery of its participants. Among the best examples are paintings to be found in the National Museum of Art in Almaty by Kanafiya Telhanov, Eugene Sidorkin, Salihitdin Aitbaev and many others.

Said Atabekov follows this tradition and speaks loudly about the source of masculine power and proclaims his adherence to the ancient practices of the nomads. But the difference between him and his predecessors is he is no longer an outsider peacefully painting in his studio. His interrogation of the ritual starts when he becomes a part of the game. Like a true nomad he is there among the fighters and his camera captures their strong emotions and follows the intensity of their frantic action.

Sometimes his viewpoint is on – high, the God – like perspective turns riders to a mass of atomised cells captured in a dramatic moment, as they collide with each other vying for the heavy carcass. However Atabekov’s camera is never too static and he is also exploring smaller narratives by changing his viewpoint closer to the participants with their eyes gazing out towards the battlefield, spiritually composed with no signs of fear.

The 66 Lbs series of photos is archetypal of Atabekov’s photographic eye which scans this Central Asian sport in all its complexity. While his work addresses specific traditions that seem to belong to a different era it has a universal appeal to feelings and ideas surrounding ritual and identity.

Although `only a game', the strategies of Kokpar competition transfer so readily to politics, alliance building, notions of success and survival. The powerful imagery of the photographic series 66 Lbs by S. Atabekov portrays an ancient power game where both tribal and individual actions are elevated to a larger significance for understanding dramatic games of power in the vastly changed local, regional, national, and global contexts since the end of the Soviet Empire.

Said Atabekov (b1965) has been acknowledged internationally for his mix of ethnographic signs, recollections of the Russian avant – garde and post – Soviet global interferences. S. Atabekov was a founding member of the Kyzyl Traktor (Red Tractor Group), the first avant-garde art collective established in the 1980s in Kazakhstan.

Both as an individual artist and as a member of Kyzyl Tractor the artist has participated in many international forums such as 51st and 52nd Venice Biennale. He took part in the exhibition Migrasophia at Sharjah Museum curated by Sarah Rasa; Art Dubai Marker section curated by Slavs and Tatars and most recently Life is a legend at Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasburg, France.

S. Atabekov lives and works in Shymkent, Kazakhstan.