Lot 48
  • 48

Almagul Menlibayeva

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  • Almagul Menlibayeva
  • Red Butterfly
  • signed, titled, dated 2012 and numbered 2/3 on a label affixed to the reverse
  • Duratrans print in lightbox
  • 91 by 122cm.; 36 by 48in.
  • Executed in 2012, produced in 2014, this work is number 2 from an edition of 3.


Property of the artist

Catalogue Note

Shaman myths, rituals of Mongolian invaders, Islamic traditions, customs of the steppe and recent Soviet past are the inseparable aspects of the modern Kazakh identity. Almagul Menlibayeva is greatly interested in these influences that often resurface when investigating the contemporary Kazakh reality. Her strong belief lies in the coexistence of these traditions without distinguishing a dominating one. Trained as a painter, Menlibayeva has received a very Soviet education as she describes it; her paintings were quite acknowledged locally, winning government prizes. However, the artist had an ambition to connect to the rest of the world and especially people outside her cultural context. Having realised the irrelevance of the skills learnt within the Soviet system, she decided to abandon painting and experiment with performance art, photography, video and film.  Menlibayeva is among the first Post-Soviet generation of artists in Central Asia who raise metaphysical questions and try to rethink their belief system; a sensitive subject for all recently liberated nations due to the breakdown of USSR. Menlibayeva’s prime aim is to situate female identity in this new framework of national and cultural identity, often reviving vigorous female characters from the local myths and legends through modern technology. She portrays women as being responsible for preserving culture, the carriers and protectors of traditions and customs. Her research of homeland encompasses frequent travels around Kazakhstan, where she finds most set locations for her art.

Usually Menlibayeva creates videos and photo series around the same themes; the present lot, Red Butterfly is closely related to the video Butterflies of Aisha Bibi. The video revolves around the 6th century legend about Aisha Bibi and her fiancé, Karakhan, the Ruler of Karakhanid dynasty. Situating the narrative in modern day, Menlibayeva touches the universal impasses about unfulfilled yearning, unconditional love, and gender roles.

On the photograph the central female figure wrapped in red drapery is standing against the ornate wall of the Aisha Bibi Mausoleum. It is a significant monument for the whole of Central Asia. The mausoleum is among the very few surviving edifices epitomizing the pre-Mongol architecture of the region. The location of the mausoleum, Taraz is also noteworthy as it revives another chapter of the country’s history: the Great Silk Road. The silk drapery of the model can also be read as a reference to the important era of international trade and cultural transmission. In reviving and re-contextualizing ancient mythology into contemporaraneity, Menlibayeva reanimates the rich heritage lost in the ‘cultural reformation’ associated with the Soviet invasion.

Visually the photograph is equally grasping; the contrast of elaborate architecture and plain draping, of monochrome beige and exuberant red, and of strict compositional symmetry create an aesthetically pleasing image. Menlibayeva, up to date with current technological developments, produces an exquisite images of abundant colours with dense and multi-layered symbolic references. Often displaying her photographs as light-boxes, the works gain added luminosity and a stronger presence as a result.

Menlibayeva’s art is widely acknowledged, receiving attention from such institutions as MoMA, New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her artworks were also acquired by the Louis Vuitton collection. Menlibayeva was awarded the prestigious Kino Der Kunst award in 2013 for her Transoxiana Dreams (2011).