Daughters of Turan
Daughters of Turan explores the emotional and spiritual residues of an ancient belief system as well as a historic conflict, still resonating among the peoples of Central Asia today, between the Zoroastrian ideology of former Persia, spreading widely across Eurasia and influencing Western politicians and philosophers and the Tengriism (sky religion) of the Turkic tribes, reaching as far as the Pacific Ocean. Tūrān, the ancient Iranian name for Central Asia, the land of the Tur, inhabited by nomadic tribes, takes center stage signifying the relationship between the male and the female principles ingrained in the stories, myths and ritual practices of a widespread population and its cultures.
The nurturing earth goddess Umai and favorite wife of Tengri, the god of the sky, much like Gaia in the Greek mythology, created life also gynogenetic, out of herself, and symbolizes the close relationship of the people to the land and its given riches, without agriculture, by animals and humans feeding off her body and drinking her milk. The elusive sky god Tengri, foremost living on in Christianity, where then becoming omnipotent, is here still in his adolescent phase – while Umai satiates the voracious appetite of her inhabitants, Tengri watches over her body, the plains of the great Steppes of Central Asia, playfully entertaining several other wives and fathering many children.
Menlibayeva reaches further into the psychological fabric of the people living today on the Steppes which their ancestors had traversed before they were forced to settle down, first by Persia and China to become peasants and in the 20th century by the Soviet Union in a cultural genocide. Umai, said to have sixty golden strands, still has her ‘daughters’ today, the female population, engaging in the same acts as their predecessors, symbolizing the circle of life, the most powerful Shaman symbol by making sure the circle remains undisturbed and intact, reflected in Menlibayeva’s video, Milk for Lambs. From this perspective, all men remain ultimately adolescent- feeding on the female riches, “When I look at the Steppe, it reminds me of my body, dry and in some places hairy,” referenced in all roundness of all things, “When I look at the round yurts and tables, they remind me of my breasts.” (lyrics, Milk for Lambs, Menlibayeva).
In her video Butterflies of Aisha Bibi, Menlibayeva recounts an ancient love story of the Sufi poet’s daughter Aisha Bibi and Karakhan, the Central Asian version of Romeo and Juliet, visually transforming it into a modern day drama of unfulfilled longing, unconditional love and its underlying gender discourse, addressing a never ceasing problematic synergy/symbiosis, deeply rooted in the civilizations born between the elements of earth and sky.
Almagul Menlibayeva was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan and lives and works in Amsterdam and Berlin and holds an MFA from the Art and Theatre University of Almaty. She has gained international recognition exhibiting at the Sydney Biennial of Contemporary Art, 2006; the 51st, 52nd & 53rd Venice Biennale, 2005, 2007 & 2009; Tarjama/Translation at the Queens Museum of Art, 2009, and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Ithaca, NY, forthcoming 2010; and the Oberhausen Film Festival, Germany, 2009 & 2010. Menlibayeva’s video Kissing Totems is traveling in Off the Beaten Path, Stenersen Museum, Oslo; University Art Gallery, the University of California, San Diego, CA, 2009; El Cubo-Tijuana Cultural Center, Tijuana, Mexico; Museo Universitario del Chopo, Mexico City, 2010; and forthcoming, Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa; COP10 Nagoya, Japan; and the UN Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, China.
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