Andakulova Gallery, Dubai, is hosting the first exhibition of the photographic and video works of leading Kazakh artist Almagul Menlibayeva. Titled ‘Genius Loci - Central Asia’, it will run from March 6 – September 20, 2019.

Born in 1969 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Menlibayeva is a multi disciplinary artist who practices across several mediums such as painting, graphic art, performances, installations and video. In this exhibition, she uses her chosen mediums to reflect on cultural transformations of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan. Her focus is on post-Soviet social issues, with a feminist slant.

The female protagonist is at the core of her practice, and through her striking and sometimes provocative compositions, she attempts to carve a space for her gender within the new cultural framework of post-SovietCentral Asia. Her women are invariably glamorous, well dressed and stylised, strong and powerful. Menlibayeva also introduces the ecological crisis of modern civilisation in her projects. Her subjects are placed in and around the Aral Sea, which was once the fourth largest lake in the world but now is almost dried up since its river sources were radically diverted for agricultural irrigation.

Masterfully, the lonesome figures in these artworks symbolise the isolation of modern city life as well as convey the sombre reality of looming environmental disaster, brought about by the desire to get modern quickly. The land lies bare and stripped in a surreal state of existence with discarded fishing fleets on dusty terrain, cleaved by monstrous metal left behinds. But the spirit of the land – its genius loci – asserts itself in the form of alluring hybrid beings, both sexually charged and bizarre.

She uses mythology to visually revitalise a land made sterile by occupation through mirage- like figures against the emptiness of the landscape.

Menlibayeva juxtaposes the formalism of Soviet art and the informal spontaneity of nomadic art. Her work reveals strong influences of Kazakh culture that believes in dreams and shamanism, and the cult of ancestors. Her work has been described as “Romantic Punk Shamanism”. They have a theatricality resulting from a complex set of references ranging from tribal symbolism to images of a communist industrial past. The video work opens the topic of space debris that surrounds us. Spacewaste or space garbage includes old satellites and spent rocket stages, as well as fragments from their disintegration, collisions and abandonment, floating alongside the earth’s movement. Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in Kazakhstan which figures in the video, is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the place has been on rental to Russia. In bringing to focus the happenings – or mishaps – resulting from the space programme, Melibayeva reminds us that in terms of ecology, the space business has a lot to answer for.

Natalya Andakulova, founder and director of Andakulova Gallery says: “We are very proud to present this new body of work by Almagul Menlibayeva, one of the most important artists of her generation. “Her work straddles tradition and modernity and is also really contemporary in its aesthetic, using different media - which reflects the plurality of our own world”. Menlibayeva’s art making has recently taken a turn to “artivism”, in the sense that as an established artist, she is working to integrate young and emerging Central Asian artists into the art ecology of the region. Her activity involves mentoring, lecturing and guiding those in search of definite and practical lines, visions and concepts of work.

Almagul Menlibayeva lives betweenKazakhstanandGermany. Her work is part of the collections of Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Her project titled ‘Ride the Caspian’ was part of Sharjah Biennial 10. She was a panellist at the ‘Futurisms’ platform of March Meeting, Sharjah Art Foundation, in 2018. She has also showed her work at Art Dubai, Fifth Edition. She has been exhibited at the Grand Palais, Paris (2016–2017); 56th Venice Biennial (2015) and MoMA PS1, New York (2013), among other centres. Her videos have been shown at many international film festivals, including the Rotterdam Film Festival (2011); 22nd São Paulo International Short Film Festival (2011) and INVIDEO 2010, Milan (2010).