In the footsteps of the Venice Biennale

Autor of text: 

Sa’id Atabekov is an artist from Shymkent, an outstanding representative of the modern art in Kazakhstan, who is among the first to win the international fame and recognition.

The Kazakhstani artist from Shymkent, one of the leaders of the legendary art group Kyzyl Tractor Sa’id Atabekov has presented his projects at the famous Venice Biennale 2013 already five times running.

The frequent guest of the world modern art events virtually “got the residence permit” in Venice and Milan as one of the most outstanding and distinctive artists of the Middle Asia and Kazakhstan. His projects attract viewers, curators, and collectors. He is in demand, he is building – at last – his own long-awaited studio on grant money that he received from the Prince of Netherlands for his contribution to the global art, he is preparing new pieces of art for next exhibitions, he is raising his talented children who have already begun to prove themselves in art, he keeps on receiving new invitations from international curators… But, in his home country, alas, little is known about the great success of Sa’id Atabekov, which in no way stops him from feeling himself being a globally minded person. That is the subject matter of our conversation. 

Interviewer: Sa’id, a few words about what exactly you get from the participation in such global international projects as the Venice Biennale.

Sa’id Atabekov: It has been the fifth participation of Kazakhstan and personally me in the Venice Biennale. I am always happy and surprised by the fact that I reside in Shymkent and suddenly in a few hours I am already in Venice, and I can spend there, for instance, a week, observe it, walk around it and explore it. I get much from such trips – they inspire me as an artist in the first place. And the most important thing is that you establish new links, receive new offers and projects, because curators, art dealers and collectors arrive in there from all over the world. And I surely have my own financial interest, for my works are often bought here at such exhibitions-fairs, because they are like a big bazaar, which people visit to see what today’s artists are like.


I: So, an artist is the same as an item of goods?

S.A.: Roughly speaking, so it is. And at first they look over and examine this item of goods, then think about the point of acquiring of the artistic idea and its treatment, or about arranging a new exhibition where an artist at issue will take part. But it takes some time: every now and then they may watch some projects for several years to see what changes the artist will go through and what he will have to offer. But I was lucky, because as soon as I first appeared at the Venice Biennale I signed the cooperation contract with the private gallery in Milan. And my works have been exhibited and sold for four years there.


I: So, to participate in such exhibitions means specific financial interest for you.

S.A.:  Certainly, I am a living human, and I have a family. But it’s all not about money, but about trips and meeting people of art, which can’t be evaluated in millions of dollars and can’t be bought even provided you have such big money. Here you communicate with kindred spirits, and when you realize that you have a chance to be in this place not because of your VIP contacts or big money but because of  your hard work and maybe talent and personality, it inspires you with new life.  


I: What did you have to show the Venice exhibition visitors this time?

S.A.:  Firstly, apart from me, artists from Almaty presented their video projects and installations. It was a family of the famous artist Galym Madanov. As for me, I had 20-metres Genghis khan’s poppy shroud printed on fabric and Genghis khan’s big costume about 5 metres size. I made it such a way that anyone could pass through its pant legs or sleeves and thus feel like he is contacting his fate, and realize the grandness of this legendary person.

I: Sa’id, not for the first time you make the image of Genghis khan the basis for your projects. We even may say that you are always around him. What attracts you towards this historical figure?

S.A.:  I am interested in him as in person, in his life, and also in many myths and legends about him. It gives me the constant motivation and flash for each next exhibition. And it is more interesting for me to live on myths, stories, and legends. I make them up myself, or make them play.


I: How do you view Genghis khan having all this information about him?

S.A.:  He is toughie!!! But he did not erect the monument of himself pro vita like many famous persons did before and keep doing now. And here, in Kazakhstan, we know little truth of him, in Europe people know about him much more, because many interesting books in various languages are published there. And at the exhibition Europeans were coming up to me saying that they know who Genghis khan is, and I felt that they know about him firsthand and treat him with respect.

I: People say that in Europe, in Italy and France particularly, they show a special interest for Attila, who many of us know nothing about. However, he is an outstanding person who played his important role in the history of many states.

S.A.: I also have an interest in Attila, and I’ve at once recalled one episode: after my first exhibition in Venice organizers invited me to a restaurant. There was an art historian there, who told me that we were almost brothers, and that I could feel like home in Italy. When I asked him why, he replied: “Because your Attila visited our land and he did very much for Italy!” He is respected there, but most of all I was surprised by the fact that they not just know history well, but on the basis of their knowledge they respect those (even conquerors) who did even little for their country or region, even in the ancient times, and we – we respect no one…

Another remarkable fact is that after this Biennale where there always was a pavilion of Central Asia, there were people who wanted to open a separate Kazakhstani pavilion in Venice, where this time curator was Dina Baitassova. I think that if we found our own modern art pavilion in Italy, this is going to become an important historical moment for the culture of Kazakhstan.  

I: It is really significant! And this is also your achievement! Haven’t you had a feeling that you’re at home when you arrived in Venice for the first time?

S.A.:  Yes, I have! This feeling is always with me, and the idea that the world is small is confirmed every time. Now I’m not surprised anymore when I run into my acquaintance or fellow citizen at the airport in Amsterdam. There is a point of awareness that you are a globally minded person in that. We have to eliminate borders. You know, when I arrived in New York for the first time and left its airport, I breathed in such air of freedom as if I had come to my granddad’s place. 

I: And how to become a globally minded person?

S.A.:  To become a globally minded person you have to work much, to travel much, to see and know much. To be curious and open. But to work is in the first place!

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