Erbossyn Meldibekov

Seasons

Hong Kong25 May – 06 Jul 2019
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  • Opening reception: 25 May, 3–6 pm

    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 Asiafollowing 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 Seasonsis 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 nBukhara, 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 systemsfunctions 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 Seasonsoffer 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.

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    • Seasons

      2018
      Acrylic on canvas, postcards, ink and stamps
      Dimensions variable

      Comprising ten postcards and ten paintings, Seasons features images culled from photographs in historical archives showcasing the timeline of monuments erected in Amir Timur Square in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. During the last century, statues dedicated to Lenin, Stalin and Konstantin von Kaufmann (the first governor-general of Turkestan) were constructed there. Today, a depiction of fourteenth-century Central Asian hero Amir Timur (Tamerlane) reflects the ideals of the current political ideology.

      Mirroring the shift in monumental culture, Meldibekov’s works are shown in an array of seasonal colours to provide commentary on the continuous, looping cycle of unprogressive political and social nostalgia. The artist individually numbered, stamped and sent each postcard via airmail to the gallery in advance of the present exhibition. This act echoes the practice of mail art, commonly associated with Fluxus artist On Kawara, whom Meldibekov has cited as an influential figure.

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    • Bukhara & Vihara

      2018
      Carvings in wood boxes
      43 x 43 x 50 cm (17 x 17 x 20 in)

      Taking its title from the Uzbek city of Bukhara and the Sanskrit word for monastery (vihara), Bukhara & Vihara is a modular wooden sculpture comprised of four parts, each of which slots into another, akin to a child’s toy. The work was inspired by an actual architectural structure that served as a site of worship over the years – for Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Muslims and Jews – and now exists as a museum that attracts tourists. Here, Meldibekov considers the building’s heretical, sacred and secular associations, from antiquity to the present day.

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    • Six Types of Mount Fujiyama

      2018
      Hammered enamelware
      13 x 29 x 29 cm (5 x 11 x 11 in)

      Delving into cycles and erasure, Six Types of Mount Fujiyama takes its cue from the art and life of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and his acclaimed woodcut prints Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Meldibekov’s interest in the artist lies in Hokusai’s obsession with Mount Fuji and his personal desire to change his name and operate under different aliases. Meldibekov’s six enamel pots, intentionally deformed and defaced, signal a return to an earlier practice of exploring mountain ranges and their ideological associations.

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    • Game

      2017
      5 handmade rubics cubes, red, black and green colors with Braille
      Each 6 x 6 x 6 cm (2 ⅜ x 2 ⅜ x 2 ⅜ in)

      Game is inspired by the popular Rubik’s cube puzzle and is composed of three colours – red, green and white, referencing the colours of the Afghan flag. Providing a revisionist interpretation of the legacy of The Great Game (the original 19th century standoff between Russian and British empires over Afghanistan). Game explores Afghanistan’s current position as a centrepiece of the longstanding War on Terror, masking both the US and British interests.

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    • Children’s Attraction

      2019
      Coloured pencil on photo paper
      35 x 50 cm (14 x 20 in)

      Children’s Attraction borrows from the European tradition of printing portraits of monarchs on banknotes, as it investigates the relationship between monetary systems, colonialism and revolutions. Channelling the cultlike persona of the late dispossessed Iranian Pahlavi monarch Shah Mohammad Reza – an ally of the West during the Cold War who implemented Western-style social, political and economic systems – Meldibekov mirrors Iran’s pre-revolutionary position in this work, with regard to current reforms in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. He also questions colonial systems associated with monetary control and sanctions.

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    • Cinema / Postcards

      2017
      Video and 8 postcards
      Each postcard 15 x 10 cm (6 x 4 in)

      Composed of a video and ten postcards, Cinema / Postcards chronicles the biographical life of a fictional Kazakh president. The video is presented as a melodramatic mash-up featuring Soviet and post-Soviet heroism in the form of a mythical leader who undergoes various trials and tribulations. At the end of the film, he absurdly emerges as a devout Muslim. The corresponding postcards feature hand-drawn portraits of the different actors who have performed the role of the president/cultlike figure throughout each stage of his life. Each postcard is numbered in ascending order, in accordance with the age of the actor playing the respective part, and adorned with patriotic stamps emblazoned with the face of the current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

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    • Brand

      2015
      Branding on leather
      5 pieces
      Left to right: 100 x 92 cm, 95 x 106 cm, 95 x 90 cm, 93 x 92 cm, 100 x 101 cm (39 x 36 in, 37 ½ x 42 in, 37 ½ x 35 in, 37 x 36 in, 39 x 40 in)

      Brand presents five branded hides that delve into the symbolic and arbitrary quality of value systems. The work also examines our conceptual and transcultural associations with numbers. Drawing inspiration from various sources – including a meeting with a former tattooed Holocaust survivor and an ongoing interest in the work of Fluxus artist On Kawara’s use of numbers and dates – Meldibekov investigates the process of numbering as a process of documenting historical recordings.

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    • Pedestal

      2016
      Wood sculpture
      70 x 21 x 15 cm (27 ½ x 8 x 6 in)

      Pedestal is Meldibekov’s response to the contested site of Alto Square in central Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where an actual pedestal was built in 1984 to display a monument of Lenin. The pedestal became a marker for Kyrgyzstan’s unstable political situation: the country underwent two revolutions, in 2005 and 2015, after each of which the winning party installed a new sculpture to promote its political ideology; each time, the monument increased in size and grandeur. Meldibekov’s version humorously incorporates all of the architectural features that have been imposed upon the pedestal.

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