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Kissing Totems, Almagul Menlibayeva's First Solo Exhibition
Almagul Menlibayeva, French Kiss, Lambda Print, 30 x 40 in. 76.2 x 101.6 cm. 2007-08.

NEW YORK.- Priska C. Juschka Fine Art presents Kissing Totems, Almagul Menlibayeva’s first solo exhibition in the United States. Deeply connected with her native Central Asia, Almagul Menlibayeva’s work attempts to test the permeability of contemporary art to some traditional practices, ideas and imagery. Often described as punk-shamanism, Menlibayeva’s videos are embedded in theatricality that leads them through a complex set of references — from tribal symbolism to images of the communist industrial past.

In the video Headcharge, the story, which casually begins in a restaurant in the city of Almaty, gradually slips into a disturbing ritual performed by the female protagonists. We see several urban young women eating a sheep’s head and, to increase the shock value of the scene, feeding each other. The grotesque juxtaposition of archaic beliefs with today’s "urban attitude" of the protagonists de-rails the reality of the story. Step by step, through increasingly unruly takes of the camera, the film gives way to a parallel reality, referring to shamanistic travels between worlds. As often in Menlibayeva’s films, the female protagonists allude to the Persian mythological image of "peri" - female creatures ranking between angels and evil spirits. Accentuating the ambiguity of peri, whose image is very popular in Central Asia, the artist bespeaks the current shifts of the feminine condition, which occurs with the progressing Islamization of the countries in the region.

In the second film Kissing Totems, a series of surrealist actions and unlikely encounters take place on the territory of a deserted factory from the Soviet era. This industrial ruin of the communist past becomes a stage for birds, totems and peris who are inscribed in a shifting dream-narrative. Invoking confounding feelings of unease and curiosity, the artist lets us see the film through a little girl’s eyes, who observes the uncanny events with a contemplative detachment. As she traverses symbols from the communist past — cast by the camera from the factory’s industrial materialism — she encounters mythological beings from her country’s ancestral tales. Surprisingly enough, peris and totems seem to perfectly cohabit with the constructivist ironwork of the place, while the girl appears very much at ease with both symbolic systems. Through the fantasized gaze of the girl, the post-communist "non-lieu" in the Kasakh steppe becomes but another totemic myth, which is being appropriated by the newly revived beliefs and ideologies.

Menlibayeva was born in Kazakhstan and currently lives and works in both Berlin and Amsterdam. She holds an MFA from the Art and Theatre University of Kazakhstan in Almaty, and has been the subject of several solo exhibitions and numerous group shows. Her video On the Road was screened at the Paris-Berlin International Film Festival at the Centre Georges Pompidou and at the 51st Venice Biennale in the Central Asian Pavilion. Her performance Peristan, premiered at the opening of the 52nd Venice Biennale, in the Central Asian Pavilion. Recent group exhibitions include, Live Cinema/The Return of the Image: Video from Central Asia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Time of the Storytellers at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki, Finland; Thermocline of Art - New Asian Waves at the ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art in Karlsruhe, Germany; Caravan Seray at the Sydney Biennial; and Art and Conflict in Central Asia at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. She recently participated in the 37th Edition Film Festival (2008) in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

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