Rossi & Rossi is delighted to present Seasons showcasing works by Kazakh artist Erbossyn Meldibekov (b. 1964). Curated by Sara Raza, this presentation marks the artist’s third solo exhibition with Rossi & Rossi as well as the ten-year anniversary of the gallery’s engagement with both Meldibekov and Raza. Under the allegorical theme of ‘seasons’, the exhibition explores the artist’s ongoing inquiry into post-Soviet looping cycles of unprogressive political and social nostalgia associated with the terrain of Central Asia following its 1991 independence from Soviet imperialism.
Through his creative response to a changing and divided society, Meldibekov has earned a reputation as one of the region’s most esteemed artists. With his wry sense of humour and playful approach to politically engaged artworks, he investigates both real and imaginary spaces and places associated with the former USSR and its neighbouring regions. He articulates these realms through diverse media, including installation, painting, sculpture, works on paper and video.
One of the core themes of Seasons is architecture, both in its formal and informal capacities, which resonates ideologically through several works like a live current. The artist’s hand thus functions as a tool to resolve leftover Soviet imperial remnants. Central to the exhibition is the eponymous work Seasons (2017), which consists of ten postcards and ten paintings of ten monuments – shown in the seasonal colors of spring, summer, autumn and winter – that were erected in Amir Timur Square in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, over a 100-year period. To date, the public square has featured monuments dedicated to Lenin, Stalin and Konstantin von Kaufmann (the first governor-general of Turkestan), and is now home to a monument of fourteenth-century Central Asian hero Amir Timur (Tamerlane).
Meldibekov further addresses the topic of architecture in Bukhara and Vihara (2018), a wood sculpture in four parts that explores the changing history of a physical temple site in Seasons No. 10, 2017; oil on canvas; 10 x 15 cm (4 x 6 in) Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Having served as a venue for different places of worship – from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Islam – it now exists as a ‘carpet museum’, its rich history spanning from antiquity to the present day whilst its shell reflects its use as a heretical, sacred and secular public space.
The show also examines the artist’s critique of value systems pertaining to patrimony and monetary wealth in the region. In Children’s Attraction (2017), a series of portrait drawings depicting former monarchic figures from neighbouring Afghanistan and Iran, Meldibekov delves into the revolutionary turbulence of the twentieth century. Borrowing from the European tradition of printing portraits of monarchs on banknotes, he focuses on the cultlike persona of the former Iranian Pahlavi monarch Mohammad Reza, who was considered a staunch ally of the West during the Cold War period, yet despised at home in the East, where he attempted to implement Western-style social, political and economic systems. Images of the shah populated public spaces and were emblazoned on banknotes and coins prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, after which they were swiftly replaced with the face of the supreme Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The association between revolutions and monetary value systems serves as a commentary on the West’s neocolonial control over the East. The West exerts its power through extensive trade embargoes, the freezing of assets and the imposition of sanctions, as in the case of Iran. Meldibekov’s interest in such monetary value systems functions as a criticism of the widespread mimicry and image of orientalism inspired by the West, which is then reenacted back in the East, setting a colonial/imperial trap with catastrophic results.
The unique works presented in Seasons offer an intelligent and witty take on an alternative visual cultural pastiche of history and politics. Mimicking the oral tradition of storytelling in Central Asia and Iran, Meldibekov’s art is laced with dark humour and irony, creating a provocative dialogue of ruptured time-space.
A programme featuring public talks, curatorial tours and a half-day study day on Central Asia accompanies the exhibition (details will be published on the gallery’s website). In addition, a post-exhibition catalogue will feature an essay by Sara Raza and an interview with the artist conducted by London-based Indira Dyussebayeva-Ziyabek, an independent curator and co-founder of International Art Development Association (IADA), a non-profit focusing on contemporary art from Central Asia and Kazakhstan.