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Shailo Djekshenbaev: The Transition

The Kirgyz photographer looks at the changes his homeland has gone through in the last two decades.
By Lizzy Mayrl | Aug 2010

The exhibition of the Kirgyz photographer Shailo Djekshenbaev in the photo gallery anika handelt in Vienna reflects the changes his homeland has gone through in the last two decades. The exhibition title Transition refers to the photo work Ötmök (in Kirgyz: pass, bottleneck, crossing): a bus crosses a ridge with effort and detours across the steppe, because stones cover the road and block further travel.

Upheaval, decline, transition – these words can only begin to describe the great revolutionary changes. The photographs go beyond that, telling a story. When Djekshenbaev casts his glance at the nearby road or the distant horizon, what is grotesque becomes clear. Something lies between the "here and now" and the future. One senses the impulse to set off, hopelessness and hope, destruction and moving forward in one breath.

Quietly and at a remove from things, Djekshenbaev is interested in the situation in his country. He avoids the sensational places, the street fighting and plundering during the last two revolutions; there is no picture of bleeding victims. But he seems to trace the atmosphere…

How can important historical events be presented without depicting them in documentary fashion at the same time? Two essential factors mold Djekshenbaev’s photographic work: first, time, i.e., experience and long-term observation; second, places important to him, like Ala Too Square, the Old Airport in the city of Bishkek (formerly Frunse), the abandoned Soviet settlement Kyzyl Ompol, and the new residential areas on the outskirts of Bishkek, called Nova Stroika.

Shailo Djekshenbaev’s subjects are barren, deserted regions, paths, fields of stone, asphalt, and architecture. When people appear, they are part of what happens and of the whole space of a well-considered composition. Often they are presented as silhouettes or fragmentarily; sometimes a sculpture or a relief stands for a person. These are people fully integrated in – in part the captives of – the societal structure. They want to get ahead even when the situation seems forlorn. This is especially clear in a photo from the series OverTONes (2005): a young man makes swimming movements in an empty concrete pool and cannot move at all.

The four-part photo series Perestroika (2004) shows a destroyed asphalt surface. People walk over the fragments and seem to be wandering on ice floes or uncertain ground, but nonetheless let nothing turn them from their path. For Djekshenbaev, this is a typical paradox, a metaphor for the globally shaken world.

The artist was born in Sailyk in 1947. He studied Architecture at the Polytechnical Institute Frunse. From 1972 to 1974, together with V. Nazarov and D. Yryskulov, he realized the construction of the Museum of Arts in Bishkek. From 1975 to 1979, he was an Instructor at the Faculty for Architecture at the Polytechnical Institute Frunse. From 1979 to 1981, he studied Film Directing at the Film Academy Goskino in Moscow. He was co-founder of the film studio Kumai in Bishkek and, as art director and cameraman, together with Marat Saraluu, realized several films including the short subject The fly up (2002) and the feature film My brother silkroad (2001). These films won international prizes in New York, Nantes, and elsewhere.

His biographical background greatly influences his photographic gaze, the structure (the architecture), and the statement (the dramatics) of his pictures. As Shailo Djekshenbaev reports, the decay of the old structures was a kind of liberation for him. Photography has always been his favorite medium; he can work with it alone without having to fit in with colleagues.


Lizzy Mayrl

Artist and independent curator with a special focus on contemporary art from Central Asia.

(Translation from German: Mitch Cohen)

Photographs by Shailo Djekshenbaev
29 June - 21 Aug. 2010

Galerie anika handelt

Yppenplatz 5
1160 Vienna

Lizzy Mayrl

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