Asia Contemporary Art Week (ACAW)’s third signature program for the season, Thinking Collections: Telling Tales, connects New York and Central Asia’s art scenes through an unprecedented survey exhibition of Kyzyl Tractor, Kazakhstan’s most celebrated art collective. The exhibition, hosted at Mana Contemporary, is part of Focus Kazakhstan—a landmark series of thematic presentations led by the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan across four cities: London, Berlin, Suwon, and Jersey City.
The exhibition reunites Kyzyl Tractor Art Collective, noted for their feverish experimentations in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, after almost two decades of working both separately and occasionally together. Known for reorienting nomadic, Sufi, and shamanistic philosophies as a new artistic language over the past three decades, their work continues to chronicle the seismic socioeconomic and political shifts in Central Asia.
Constant nomadic movement, a common narrative of the 1990s, is present in most of Kyzyl Tractor’s performances, sacred materials such as wood, wool, felt, and other textiles found in the steppes of Kazakhstan are frequently used, along with instruments like the shan-kobyz, dombra, and drums. The principles of the spatial-structural composition school and dervish, nomadic and Tengri heritage are visible in the first ten years of their performative practice.
The show comprises two monumental sculptural works—one newly conceived and a reproduction of an older destroyed drum as part of a renowned performance Purification that occurred 20 years ago. On October 14, the opening day of the exhibition, the collective will reenact this legendary performance ritual at Mana’s entry steps.
Central to the exhibition is an installation of over 45 paintings by Moldakul Narymbetov—the artist, baksy (shaman), poet, philosopher and former lead member of Kyzyl Tractor—showcasing his work from the 1980s until his passing in 2014. Numerous sculptures, paintings, drawings, found objects and other paraphernalia by current key members Smail Bayaliyev, Said Atabekov, Vitaliy Simakov, and Arystanbek Shalbayev are also included alongside numerous archival photos of the collective’s earlier performances.