Almagul Menlibayeva examines shared histories, global futures at Lahore Biennale

The Kazakh video-artist collaborated with Inna Artemova and German Popov to create an ‘Intrinsic Futuristic Machine’ for the second edition of the Lahore Biennale.

by Jones John Published on : Feb 17, 2020

On January 28, Sagheer Muhammad, a musician from Gilgit-Baltistan, sat cross-legged with his rubab, a regional lute, to play music from his homeland in Pakistan-administered Kashmir at an unlikely venue: Lahore’s P.I.A. Planetarium. Above his head was projected a night sky, which held interspersed screens displaying documentary footage, technical drawings, Farsi manuscripts and an assortment of other sundry astronomical esoterica. This domed structure was the setting for Kazakh artist Almagul Menlibayeva’s 10-channel video-installation for the Lahore Biennale 2020. Muhammad, and other local musicians including the sitarist Rakae Jamil, had been invited to collaborate by the sound-artist ‘Our Man’ from Odessa, a.k.a. German Popov, who, along with painter Inna Artemova, had journeyed with Menlibayeva from Tashkent to Samarkand, in modern-day Uzbekistan, to explore the legacy of the astronomer-king Ulugh Beg Mirza.

Rakae Jamil performing with German Popov at the PIA Planetarium | Ulugh Beg: The Intrinsic Futuristic Machine of Central Asia | Lahore Biennale 2020 | Almagul Menlibayeva, Inna Artemova, German Popov | STIRworld
Rakae Jamil performing with German Popov at the PIA Planetarium Image Credit: Courtesy of Almagul Menlibayeva

The eponymously named Ulugh Beg: The Intrinsic Futuristic Machine of Central Asia contemplates the contemporary relevance of the astronomical and mathematical discoveries of the 15th century Timurid sultan, who ruled the land stretching today from Kazakhstan to Pakistan. This shared history between Menlibayeva’s native land and the exhibition’s host city informed the artist’s choice to work with Ulugh Beg’s story as it presents a narrative of transnational heritage and, working in opposition to the Cold War tendencies whose influence can often be seen in the video-artist’s large body of work, the global proprietorship of knowledge.

Data and resources for the project was collected through a range of interactions facilitated by the Uzbek art-historian Nigora Akhmedova between the installation’s team and various stakeholders of Ulugh Beg’s cultural legacy including scientists, historians, musicians and other artists, and site-visits to places of historic relevance such as the Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand. The expedition was supported by various institutions namely Polyeco Contemporary Art Initiative, Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Trust for Mutual Understanding, American-Eurasian Art Advisors, Andkulova Gallery and International Art Development Association.

Video stills from Ulugh Beg | Ulugh Beg: The Intrinsic Futuristic Machine of Central Asia | Lahore Biennale 2020 | Almagul Menlibayeva, Inna Artemova, German Popov | STIRworld
Video stills from Ulugh Beg Image Credit: Courtesy of Almagul Menlibayeva

The presence of Muhammad and Jamil, both versatile musicians in classical traditions, within the context of Popov’s avant-garde microtonal experiment Heliocentric Tetrachord, which had been previously performed alongside some of Menlibayeva’s other recent work, presents another lingering subtext, that of the trans-historicity of the contemporary experience, in which perceived futures and pasts can co-exist with the present. This paradigm of thinking can be seen in Menlibayeva’s earlier work as well, which the artist describes as ‘punk romantic shamanism’, where images from historical memory are invoked to vitalise the sober present. Though approached from a different direction at Lahore, it is a similar didactic that emerges when the artist attempts to navigate the contemporary relevance of the astronomer while meditating on the inherent futurism of his personality by keeping his contemporaneity intact.

The installation also comprised of Artemova’s 360 degree suprematist visualisation of a futuristic model of outer space centred around a stylised globe, and a second collaboration between Menlibayeva and Popov, titled The Cabinet of Morphological Metamorphoses, another tribute to Ulugh Beg in which the shadows of musical instrument parts are reimagined as futuristic space crafts.

The Cabinet of Morphological Metamorphoses | Ulugh Beg: The Intrinsic Futuristic Machine of Central Asia | Lahore Biennale 2020 | Almagul Menlibayeva, Inna Artemova, German Popov | STIRworld
The Cabinet of Morphological Metamorphoses Image Credit: Courtesy of American-Eurasian Art Advisors LLC

The second edition of the Lahore Biennale, which is incidentally titled Between the Sun and the Moon, has been curated by Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi and attempts to negotiate the cultural cosmologies of the Global South, especially those of Pakistan and its neighbours around West and South Asia, with the goal of envisioning a sustainable global ecosystem in which the countries categorised within this bracket can thrive. The programme has a focus on the shared heritage of the region, including that of collective trauma from events such as the partition. It simultaneously maintains focus, albeit divergently, on the Lahore’s history as a centre for trade, commerce and culture. Other participating artists include Alia Farid, Barbara Walker, Reem Falaknaz, Simone Fattal, Nalini Malini and Vivan Sundaram.

Transposing futures and pasts onto the present | Ulugh Beg: The Intrinsic Futuristic Machine of Central Asia | Lahore Biennale 2020 | Almagul Menlibayeva, Inna Artemova, German Popov | STIRworld
Transposing futures and pasts onto the present Image Credit: Courtesy of Almagul Menlibayeva

Comments

Comments Added Successfully!

About Author

Jones John

Jones John

John is an independent curator and art-historian working out of Bengaluru, India. He has studied at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, and Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. His research interests revolve around transcendentalism in the visual arts, cross-cultural identities and their relationship to contemporary culture.

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
959,786,730,878,924

Keep it stirring

get regular updates SIGN UP

Collaborate with us

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE