Echo of Ancient Epos in Post Modernism

Issue #1 • 1756

In March 2003 in the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan by the agency of the Switzerland Cooperation Agency in Bishkek and Tashkent was held the presentation of art project “Manas” of the famous Kyrgyz artist Yuristanbek Shygaev, a graduator of the Saint – Petersburg Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture of I.E.Repin of the Academy of Arts of USSR, emeritus figure of culture of the Kyrgyz Republic, professor, laureate (the 1st premium) biennale “Asia – art” (Tashkent, 1997). In 1999 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the 9th Asian biennale in Dacca (Bangladesh).

Yuristanbek Shygaev is one of the bright and original masters of modern Kyrgyz art. His art way started in the 80s, and the most intensive period in development of his creativity was at the early 90s when the atmosphere of creative freedom and rise of national mentality regenerated the concepts on the originality of art and ideas alternative to lyric and poetic concepts of the previous period. Artist was searching for new ways on a new turn of history aiming them to new orientations and aspects in realizing of native traditional culture, into depth of archaic consciousness, to the preservation of epic mental constants and true spiritual values. Jungian concepts about archaic – types, which formed a basis not only for traditional mentality but for the modern minding too, have given the philosophic foundation and vital significance to the artists’ searches. At the same time, it’s known that mythological experience of the nomads, which was being destroyed under influence of the sedentary lifestyle, for many years, had got lopsided interpretation and had been realized as a historical rudiment phenomenon, so migrating into the field of rituals and sporadic traditional ideas in the mentality of the people. Within the deficit of scientific searches, the rich ancient art experience of the ethnos was transforming into “under sea continent”, which was hardly seen through “chains” and canons of professional painting art though its influence was felt in the creativity of artists.

Yu. Shygaev began with attempts to release stereotypes of the past, to find a general, basic principle for modern interpretation in the oral tradition and symbolism of ancient heritage. The main thing for the artist was the understanding that direct connection between a word and a picture was not adequate to tradition, and therefore it was required to realize and to know the depth of traditional mentality and epic world vision that was born within the unique contact of a nomad and world around him. Difficult reflections and creative experiments of Yu. Shygaev resulted in formation of his individual way of plastic solution of ideas taken from the heritage, at the same time revealing absolute “modernity” of nomadic archaic culture that became basic for him.

The artist started a dialogue with the ancient culture on the basis of avant-garde ideas, which became impulses to fundamental changes in genre, thematic and compositional principles of Kyrgyz picture coming to original form of monumental scrolls. In the scrolls of Yu. Shygaev of 1996 – 1997, “Kozhozhash”, “Legends and Tales of Tien – Shan”, “Tree of the Bugints”, the heritage as if returned back, renewed in the actual atmosphere of national culture and revealed the extremely powerful source of new art ideas and fresh associations. The artist has found the synthesis of two independent art systems, avant – garde and native heritage, within which operates his creative mind. Deep and serious interest of Yu. Shygaev to myths, ancient legends and epos where he is opening wise philosophy of his ancestors is typical of modern Kyrgyz art, and as Chinggis Aitmatov said about the artist, “under the brush of Shygaev the Kyrgyz myths and legends obtained the greatness of true art.”.

The artist is close to the writer by his realizing of originality of traditional concepts of the nomads about world, life and nature, which found their reflections in legends and tales as rare poetry of the environs, as searching for the harmony and belief in eternal link of centuries and peoples. The dramatic dissonance of traditional spiritual values and collisions of a modern person caused original “metaphoric realism” that penetrates the works of Ch. Aitmatov and is typical of the brightest phenomena of modern Kyrgyz culture.

The turn to the epos “Manas” became an important stage in the art life of Shygaev. This opened national “space”, tremendous world of ideas, thoughts, encyclopedias of life and history of ancestors, in particular the Bugints, to whom the family of the artist belongs. At the same time, the sense of art crisis, exhausting of usual genre and representation forms, typical of many modern masters, made Shygaev to search for new space and visual solutions. In a style of post-modernist extending of art broads and creation of own “parallel” realty the project “Manas Tamga” (2002) of Shygaev has been planned in accordance with principles and genres of topical art. Scrolls, subjects – painted ritual skins and heads of animals, columns – signs of ancient nomadic camps, installations “Lion”, “Issyk – Kul” and “World Rock”, performances are becoming capacious index of basic ideas of the ancient epos, of the two its elements – space and time.

To express them in a way of tradition, the artist has found a general principle of a sign – Tamga. Original semantics and symbolism allying all parts of this project are extremely close to original archaic symbols; however Shygaev didn’t imitate and stylize them but perfectly used the main – ability of the ancient people to generalize their contact with the world around up to conceptual level. In the signs the artist created happened the original alliance of modern mentality with its orientation to the universal concepts with the most important archaic types of the tradition. So, their wonderful natural character was caused by the principle of “eternal signs” that Shygaev perfectly worked out: giving the modern interpretation of Tamga we are penetrating the philosophy understanding them in a way our ancestors did – we are going towards nature.

The project “Manas Tamga” bases on fourty extremely beautiful scrolls in a style of epic tradition performed on the canvas with acryl. This is a story about a person, history of the ethnos, its struggle, life, death and love. Each image is a symbol full of associations and semantic meanings, which are joined by a general epic idea – tight links of personal life with general fortune of the ethnos. Particular stylistics of these scrolls – the artist bases on ancient iconography and archaic typical forms, which lay within traditional binary opposition – “top – bottom” (“Iron Shooter”, “Two Gardens”), triads – “chaos – person – universe” (“One Star for the Two”, “Landscape”) and images of hills, yurta – idea of world mountain (“Er Manas”), world tree (“Sacred Tree”) symbolizing world, earth, birth and life.

The principle of ancient scrolls caused the general and symbolic character of motifs, what is connected with a general idea of Yu. Shygaev’s art of the last years – to fix some mysterious law of human being that the ancestors knew and which continues to influence us, to express ambiguity of its sense. The searching for sources of art, accompanying the avant-garde, organically synthesizes in the artist’s works with universal system of world visions typical of the ancient myths, its ritual nature and metaphoric nature. Yu. Shygaev within Kyrgyz art in general presents an independent way of adapting to avant-garde actualized by autochthonic archaic system as earlier the avant – garde tried to find the basis in archaic cultures.

The artist’s challenges are interesting because the modern art concept of this master breaks the limits of originality and is aiming to a dialogue of arts of the 21st century as a foundation for future further development. As the Kyrgyz scholars say, Yu. Shygaev is sure in exclusive huge spreading of archaic symbols and can see the similarity of ancient cultures of Latin America, England and Central Asia. Including himself in a group of Trans avant-gardes artists, the artist declares that his art is open for the experience of the ancestors independently on its character or historical origin.

As a resume, it is important to point out that the art of Yuristanbek Shygaev reflected a tendency existing not only in the Kyrgyz art but the regional in general too, what was caused by the radical changes in the art history of the end of the 20th century – decisive turn from depictive art adapted by the peoples of the region in the 20th century towards more complicated art “text”, which is close to avant – garde and at the same time, by its universal sounding, is close to ancient Central Asian archaic cultures. In this aspect the artist achieved the development of plastic ideas, which were programmed by the European art of the 20th century and actualized a new concept of the restoration of the contact with historical and cultural heritage in professional art, so proposing perspective way of the dialogue between two cultures – avant – garde and autochthonic.

Author: Nigora Akhmedova

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