Exploring News From Central Asia with Aida Sulova
Welcome to Day 2 of NYC Jewelry Week! Here on Future Heirloom, we’re celebrating by bringing you special behind-the-scenes content on some of our favorite programs, events, and exhibitions every day this week. Check in each day for a new feature on the happenings at NYC Jewelry Week.
Today we’re revisiting a special feature on the NYC Jewelry Week 21 exhibition, News From Central Asia, curated by Aida Sulova, on view at The Jewelry Library November 15-21, 2021. The works in the exhibition reflect currents in Politics, the Environment, and Culture of the region. Read about the making of the exhibition and Aida’s perspective on the curatorial process below.
News From Central Asia exhibition brings together Central Asian artists, makers, and designers whose inspirational works reflect political protests, climate change, collective memory restoration, jewelry as reminders of historical events, transformation caused by modernization. For New York City Jewelry Week 2021, curator Aida Sulova asked Central Asian artists and designers to share the news from their home country in the form of a wearable object – a jewelry piece.
For many artists in Central Asia making art is the only way to respond and talk about the events taking place today. Although the concept of this exhibition has a geographical representation, the themes of the news are relevant to what we are witnessing in the world. Examples include “Kinematics of Protests,” “Perestroika,” “Wearable Memory Card,” “Women of Kashgar,” “Cotton as a Curse,” says curator Sulova. Central Asia is a region which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are former Soviet Republics that comprise Central Asia today. Since its Independence gained after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asian countries have been undergoing a number of major political, social, cultural transformations.Excerpted from Aida Sulova’s Press Release for News From Central Asia
Aida Sulova’s Curatorial Field Notes for News From Central Asia
I take a deep breath to read the news from Central Asia. News from the motherland worries the most. Born in Kyrgyzstan, former Soviet Republic in Central Asia, I now live in the US. When I call my mother, who lives in Kyrgyzstan, to ask for news, it is never about a new purse that she bought or my relative’s new born baby or anything of that sort, it is always about the politics in the region.
When I heard that “The Power of Jewelry” was going to be the theme of the New York City Jewelry Week in 2021, I wanted to propose an exhibition that would become a visual and tactile reflection of the news from Central Asia. Through the tapestry of creative visions, artworks, and field notes, I was hoping to portray the complex thinking and challenging statements of makers, designers, and artists from Central Asia.
The past year was full of cataclysms that made us turn back while looking forward. Who were we, what have we become, and what have we done? Looking at what I am today, I can see my identity formation through a number of major historical events: being born and brought up in the Soviet Union, experiencing Perestroika, collapse of the old regime, life in the newly independent Muslim state, the Tulip Revolution, the April Revolution, and immigration. Now living and witnessing recent political and social upheavals in the US, I thought I’d developed some sort of immunity to the experiences of that kind. But the news kept coming and my reaction to it proved that one will never develop an emotional stability for today’s atrocities.
After I announced the theme for the “News from Central Asia” show and sent out invitations to selected artists, I packed my stuff and went to Kyrgyzstan. The trip back home in the post-pandemic period was not only about visiting my family, friends, and memories. It was also about connecting with new people, places, and practices. Looking for new codes, symbols, and answers became a central point of the journey.
I met with all participating artists, both in person and online. We talked about contemporary art and how meaningful and empowering it is when it gets to sending a message into the world. How it can be displayed not only on the walls but also on the body. I told them about The Jewelry Library and its collection of books and jewelry and its projects that unify and inspire a community of makers and storytellers. I am glad that having spent time with artists, after our walks and talks, laughs and tears, I ended up with a collection of art pieces that will be presented at the “News from Central Asia” exhibition in New York.
How can one tell a story through a wearable object? It turns out that there are many distinctive ways! A jewelry piece called “Kinematic of Protests” is made by an artistic duo, Galina and Evgeny Boikov, who used the real silhouettes of protesters from the Kyrgyz Revolutions of 2005 and 2010 to show that “dynamics of gestures and poses of individuals in extreme situations are identical for all protests and revolutions around the world.” The Tajik artist Diana Rahmanova made a jewelry piece from the household objects that during the Civil War in Tajikistan served as body protection. Two Almaty-based artists restore a forgotten Uighur material culture through costumes, jewelry, folk dances, and stories. Jol Jol, a young Kazakh jewelry brand whose work is based on roads, proposed tiaras that repeat the shape of seven rivers in Kazakhstan, an area that used to be a concentration of life, trade, and culture, but now is drying up.
Saule Dyussenbina’s series of photos of people’s trash turned into sculptural jewelry was made during the Lazy Art residence at Issyk Kul Lake. Altynai Osmoeva uses a shape of a child’s bib to reinforce the Soviet upbringing style filled with male cult jewelry. Turkmen artist Jennet presented unusual wearable embroidered portraits of Turkmen women.
“But how would you trust Aida?” – one artist shared her story about her friends’ concern when she decided to send her mother’s jewelry for the show. “I trust her because trust is what we talk about and I hear what I’ve waited to hear. I’d like to tell the world about the richness of Uighur culture while everybody is busy with politics.”
“I lost my sleep when I read your concept and after we met in my studio. But that is a good feeling because I feel challenged and inspired,” Jakshylyk Chentemirov, a jeweler from Kyrgyzstan told me.
Left: Work by Jakshylyk Chentemirov
While I was doing my research on Central Asian jewelry art, I met a scholar Ekaterina Ermakova, who shared her article “From Folk Tradition to Original Jewelry Art,” which states: “In Central Asia, designer jewelry emerged in the 1970-1980s. It replaced traditional folk jewelry. The most important characteristics of this jewelry are the amount of information and freedom of choice. Today, three main stylistic directions have been formed. The first is the traditional school, within which the jewelers copy ancient jewelry using traditional materials. The second is ethnic style, the main task of which is not copying old forms, but creating a recognizable image associated with national culture. Third – contemporary artistic style based on individual perception of the national culture. In avant-garde artworks, the artist freely handles new jewelry art materials using wood, leather, felt, bone, silk.”
Not all Central Asian artists feel safe and free to share their creative visions today. I’ve met artists who printed their artworks on coffee mugs to show them to the world. And while bringing some artworks for the “News from Central Asia” to the US, I had to go through security control and make a presentation about the artwork that the border officers called “weird looking.” The hardest was to find and ship the work of the artist from Turkmenistan. The borders are closed and locally controlled DHL is the only connecting point. Even while shipping the artworks and through dealing with logistics, customs, and state authorities, one can read the news and feel the temperature of the region.
News From Central Asia is curated by Aida Sulova and presented by The Jewelry Library for NYC Jewelry Week.
The exhibition is on view November 15-21, 2021, 11am-7pm at The Jewelry Library, 1239 Broadway, Suite 500.
Thanks to Aida Sulova for sharing insight into News From Central Asia with us. Text excerpted from press release and Curatorial Field Notes, both written by Aida Sulova. Images provided by Aida Sulova; image credits belong to the respective artists represented. Feature edited and compiled by Future Heirloom Editor Jackie Andrews.