Its history a series of continuous disruptions and conflicts, of impositions of one will upon another, Kazakhstan “Identity” has emerged as the central theme of its native artists throughout the decades, a reflex very much on show at this stunning retrospective at Wapping’s former hydraulic power station. This is a perfect complement of venue and art, as the building itself speaks somewhat forlornly of past industry and labour, a relic that originated amongst the sweat and heave of machine (it alone powered most of the dockside energy when the shipping industry dominated the area), which then transitioned into the luxuriously hip restaurant/gallery space Wapping Project overseen by the formidable Jules Wright when no longer needed as a pumping station, and has, since 2013, lain dormant and inanimate. The cold, vastly desolate spaciousness, its aesthetic industrial rigour, safely houses and mirrors the enormity of the collective artistic voice and exploration on display, itself having experienced several iterations. For every artist who harkens back to a gloriously romanticised, heroic past (the heavy influence of Soviet-era enforcement of fine art tradition), there is another who counters with a candid, metaphorically brutal slap in the face, insistent on not allowing anyone to escape the rot no matter how well disguised or eschewed (look for the marvellous picture of decaying feet just off a stairwell). Saule Suleimenova’s Kelin (Bride) commandingly greets visitors just outside the entrance, a wall-length work of a female face derived from discarded plastic and upscale shopping bags, simultaneously a piquant environmental and gender statement on casual dismissal; Yerbossyn Meldibekov’s Communism Peak, is a collection of crushed metal pots representative of the central mountain peak in the Pamir range which has, through several regime changes and ideological fluctuations, been renamed six times, an inviolable natural monument which has been the locus of symbolic successive grasps at power and control-the range remains supremely indifferent and unchanged despite the puny efforts to subvert and use it for personal influence; Almagul Menlibayeva’s videos attempt to apprehend mythologies and Shamanistic traditions that have been lost throughout occupation and systematic erasure, entire nomadic tribes which have been abandoned and forgotten in Soviet development; Said Atabekov’s film Battle for the Square, immersively projected on opposing walls of the lower gallery, ostensibly references an archaic communal game, but instead feels chaotic and violent in close detail, a wall of crushing sound and teeming activity; Gulnur Mukazhanova’s labyrinthine False Hope, encompassing the length of a side room, is a topographical landscape wrought in colourful silk, a series of serenely floating suspended fragments from the ceiling, the material often used in gift wrapping, beautiful but frivolous; Asel Kadyrkhanova’s harrowing Machine, an engine of tangled, coiled red thread branching out sinisterly from a Cyrillic typewriter to a wall of faded arrest warrants, is an excoriating visual reference to the scale of the Great Purge, each piece of paper a victim of faceless corrupt bureaucratic efficiency and disregard, an organised programme of genocide, an extended symphony of blood and murder; a wall of sewn white faces, stitched in a mass collision, struggle against loss of individual identity in the crushing wave of globalisation with its demands of homogeneity and conformity in Gulnur Mukazhanova’s Mankurts in Megapolis; Aza Shadenova and Askhat Akhmedyarov tenderly use traditional material symbols of womens’ presence in Kazakh society, addressing legacy and place across the centuries; it’s Syrlybek Bekbotayev’s mighty Mothers that expertly synthesises the overarching inquiries of this show, a system of gears onto which he has copied a portion of an iconic Kazakh painting, a picture in constant cyclical motion, an evolution of construction and deconstruction, alluding to the pressures of art to both serve standing authority, and to defy and resist the uses for which those in power may intend it.There’s even a spot for Saule Dyussenbina’s playful and groovy wallpaper motifs which wittily reference Kazakh myth and folklore. Past and present speak across the industrial rooms and floors in a dizzyingly frank dialogue, a society engaged in retrieving and anchoring its history, in celebrating and elevating its nomadic past-it’s a cry from the heart, a fist raised in defiance, against elision. It’s astounding, arguably the show of the year thus far. Post-Nomadic Mind continues through 16 October



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