About the project

Artist and/in Community: researching, reflecting, reacting

The last decade witnessed emergence of artistic practices of a very special kind. These practices are often defined as social practice art, collaborative projects, community based art, relational aesthetics, participatory art or public art. Though different in approaches, goals and individual strategies, these practices are characterized  by involvement of non-artistic groups and individuals as co-authors or participants of the project;  explicit social or political agenda aimed not only at critique or deconstruction of certain socio-political phenomena, but proposing constructive ways to solve them, even on the micro-level  — e.g. artists offer shelters, food or books for homeless;  engage in teaching projects, initiate community work, etc.; parting from traditional art infrastructure such as gallery or museum to unconventional spaces – community and public spaces, streets, etc. The scale and number of these practices within contemporary art make some art critics announce – social shift in contemporary art (Claire Bishop) or set questions like, Does contemporary art have any visible social impact? Can the effects of an artist’s work be seen and verified? (Arthur Zmievsky). Zmievsky even goes as far as proposing that art and artist should not only be concerned with catalyzing social and political change on the conceptual level, but utilize for it institutional and economical infrastructure of art – e.g. by offering more jobs to non-artists within an artistic project.

Artist and/in Community, a two year project with its main geographical focus on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, offers a Central Asian perspective on socially engaged artistic practice. Activities of the project are aimed at capacity building of regional artists and art professionals on socially engaged artistic practice; production of collaborative art projects; and advocating inclusion of art practices and artists into national and regional projects and initiatives aimed at social development and change.

As part of capacity building activities of the project the three weeks summer school gathering mainly emerging artists from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was organized in Dushanbe in August 2010. The school was titled Terrain Orientation as its main goal was to introduce theoretical and practical basis of contemporary artistic process with the special focus on socially engaged practices. This intense intellectual endeavor involved lectures, practical workshops and discussions.

The major activity of the project is artist-in-residence program in small provincial towns of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan was launched in November 2010. This program is open to regional artists, both emerging and established ones. Artists are invited to submit proposals for three weeks – a month long residency project in a provincial town in their own or neighboring country. The project should include a strong collaborative component involving local community. Focus on small provincial towns can be explained by two reasons. First, it’s an attempt to overcome overcentralization typical to Central Asian states – most of the resources, financial and human, are concentrated in capital cities, like if we talk about Kyrgyz or Tajik art scene we literary imply Bishkek or Dushanbe art scene. Second, small towns in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are relicts of overambitious Soviet modernization project. Most of these towns are newly (50-60 years ago) established settlements connected with developing in the area industries, often of military nature. Unlike capital or central cities, accumulating national finances and workforce, or rural areas returning to traditional practices of natural household, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, populations of these towns experience devastating degradation of urban life style. People there are deprived not only from access to cultural products and practices, but from basic life commodities such as water or electricity supply. These towns also experienced the most significant drain of inhabitants. Highlighting small provincial towns of the region as locations for artist’s activities we seek to achieve two objectives – production of reflection over the social issues present in these towns in historical and contemporary perspectives and providing access and opportunities of alternative of any kind through engagement with artistic practices to local inhabitants.

Artists propose various approaches and strategies in their projects. From revitalization of local cultural institutions by organizing there exhibitions and workshops (Suleiman Sharifi and Farkhod Arabov in Nurek), preserving local memories through establishment of multimedia museum in the local community centre (Jamshed Kholikov, Aleksey Rumyantsev, Anna Basanova in Taboshar) to exploring local mythology and collaborative production of animation inspired by local legends and myths (Marat Raiymkulov, Alexandra Batina, Joshua Murzakhmetov in Khorog). Some artists propose more reflective and research oriented approach. Oksana Shatalova, having lived all her life in such a small town (Rudny) in Kazakhstan, proposes to consider these towns and their inhabitants as romantics of Soviet utopia of better and fare life, not very much different from literary romantics of the 19th century.

In November 2011 all the artists participating in artist-in-residence program will gather in Bishkek for the regional conference Art for Social Change, where they will present their residency experiences. The purpose of this regional conference is to share project outcomes with wider audience and engage in dialogue over the further inclusion of artists and their practices in socially oriented activities and projects with social activists, researchers and other concerned actors. Apart from artists’ presentations, the conference will offer the floor to international art professionals (artists, researches, curators) involved with socially engaged art practices.

Georgy Mamedov



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