Said Atabekov (b.1965) graduated from Shymkent Art College in Kazakhstan in 1993 and is a key figure in Central Asia contemporary art scene. His work spans a variety of media, from video and photography to sculptures and installations.
Atabekov began his artistic career as a founding member of Red Tractor, the first avant-garde art movement founded in independent Kazakhstan. His practice observes and reflects on the dramatic social and political change in the area; the transition from nomadic culture, through communism and on to capitalism in less than a century. Atabekov captures the sense of insoluble conflict between mutually exclusive but simultaneously occurring events, skilfully identifying and animating the impact of different aspects of such changes. His solo show in 1993, entitled ‘I is not We’, was the first obvious manifestation of an individual voice in contradiction to the Soviet aesthetic of collectivism.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Atabekov amongst other intellectuals, reviews the origin of nomadic culture and sees the light in Tengrism, the ancient belief practised by Turkic tribes of Central Asia before the enforced indoctrination of Islam. Tengri identifies with a ‘celestial sky, timeless and infinite, the main deity responsible for the creation of the universe’. Atabekov believes that the original culture, encoded in DNA, is lost and remains only in fragments. The artist’s work highlights complex but common concerns such as importance of re-configuring of national identity in the context of globalisation, mass migration, environmental issues, inequality and the challenges of a natural resources driven economy. While aware of the exoticism associated with the ingrown prejudices and stereotypes of Central Asia, Atabekov refers to this subject with a sense of irony.
Amongst Atabekov’s notable projects are ‘Battle for The Square’ and the ongoing photographic series ‘Steppe Wolves’. These projects are inspired by the traditional nomadic sport of Kokpar, in which thousands of horse riders are involved in a brutal competition for a goat carcass. To distinguish themselves in a crowd, participants wear tops marked with a variety of international emblems, logos or famous brand names. This eclectic scene becomes an epitome of globalisation.
His notable exhibitions include: ‘Thinking Collections: Telling Tales’ at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City; ‘Post-Nomadic Mind’, Wapping Power Station, London 2018; solo show at Essentai Gallery, Kazakhstan 2016; series of exhibitions at Laura Bulian Gallery, Milan from 2009-2017; Sharjah Art Museum 2014; 5th Moscow Biennale 2013; Central Asia Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2011, 2007, 2005; Ostalgia, New Museum, New York 2011; ‘Time of the Storytellers’, KIASMA, Helsinki 2007; and 9th Istanbul Biennale 2005. In 2011 Atabekov was honoured with the Prince Claus Award, Netherlands.