The Colors of the Steppe: Nonconformist Art from Soviet Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

Colors of the Steppe
Jan 26, 2010 - Oct 24, 2010
DuBrow Gallery

The neighboring nations of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are located in Central Asia, the vast land mass that stretches from the Caspian Sea to Mongolia. Both nations share an Islamic heritage and a physical geography defined by the flat, expansive grasslands known as the steppe. In keeping with Islamic traditions, the arts and architecture of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have long prized the expressive use of color.

For much of the twentieth century, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were part of the Soviet Union, forming two of its fifteen constituent republics. During this period, professional artists were required to work in the official Soviet style of Socialist Realism. Socialist Realism, which favored heroic and patriotic topics painted in a conservative style, was intended to produce a unified national art and severely restricted the creative freedom of artists. As a consequence, many existing artistic traditions, including the decorative use of color characteristic of central Asia, were regarded by authorities as outdated and incompatible with official Soviet art.

The Colors of the Steppe examines the revival of expressive color in the underground, or nonconformist, art of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The artists included in this exhibition employ bright, vibrant colors as a means of reconnecting with their native artistic traditions. The result is a modern, regional art, in which tradition and innovation are combined as an alternative to official styles.

Organized by Adrian Barr, Dodge Fellow

Gulbakhar Ashimova

untitled, 1985

Oil on paper

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union

Photo Bryan Whitney