Speaking the Language of Art in Central Asia: Old Archives and New Alphabets

  • Aliya de TiesenhausenEmail author
Living reference work entry


As Kazakhstan, the largest post-Soviet Central Asian republic, prepares to abandon the Cyrillic alphabet in favor of Latin, it manifests the overall transitional flow that the region attempts to follow with varying success over the last 25 years. While official accounts and personal histories diverge, art emerges as a litmus test of the two and half decades of change: social, cultural, and linguistic.

The chapter looks at art within a framework of its role as a medium of social and political expression. In this context, artworks – their subject matter but also the media and style – become a form of language. This language in the context of Central Asia at different periods facilitated manifestation of personal opinions, official propaganda, or political dissent.

The roots of the Central Asian art world lay in the Soviet system of art production with its characteristic style and limited themes, its coarse criticism, and inventive underground. As a melting pot of cultures, the region became even more diverse during the Soviet period ensuring the constant exchange of stereotypical and sensitive outside and inward gazes.

Fast-forward to the 1990s, a decade that changed everything, bringing both hope and chaos, providing rich food for artistic production. New international exchanges brought new conversations with the outside world and with Central Asian traditionalism. Understanding of what constitutes art education, criticism, and art itself was uprooted and questioned.

In the 2000s involvement with the international art scene at once both created and destroyed the newly established and previously cocooned art world in the region. Questions such as regionalism, traditionalism, antiestablishment, self-editing, and stereotype pleasing came to the fore. The internal art scene was first in disarray and later in renewed form tears itself between the decorative and actionist camps. Both sides are sliding toward Latinization of its forms while not quite sure yet how to transliterate its Cyrillic roots.


Soviet Post-Soviet Central Asia Orientalism Nomad Identity Nationalism 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ScholarLondonUK

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