Arystanbek Shalbayev is a particularly enthralling contemporary artist who conveys his creativity through the use of many different media: installation, painting, graphics, performance art, and more.
However, none of Arystanbek’s works can be completely understood without a journey into the roots, traditions and history of his native land. The name Kazakhstan means “Land of the wanderers” due to the nomadic, therefore free, culture of this population, subjugated only by Genghis Kahn’s Mongolian Empire and the Soviet Union.
It is the ninth largest country in the world with a beautiful and amazingly heterogeneous terrain. Today it has the largest and strongest performing economy in Central Asia, with a stable fiscal situation thanks to its oil and gas industry and vast mineral resources. However, corruption, a lack of human rights, censorship and an authoritarian regime plague the nation and its people. This is the key to Shalbayev’s symbolism. It is the vision in the tunnel, the shout in the silence, rebellion through surrender.
Typically, his oblique artistry approaches a style, explores it, assimilates it, then evolves into something entirely new by melding all his influences into a unique form of personal and psychological expression that together with a strong socio- political and cultural message, make his works so distinctive and powerful.
We can distinguish De Chirico’s Metaphysical Painting in Shalbayev’s distorted perspectives and unnatural lighting - the predominance of the contrasting red, black and white in his Tunnel Vision series, for example, creates a visual impact of extraordinary force. The unexpected juxtapositions and visionary quality of his subjects, the barren, almost hallucinatory landscapes of the mind and the creative acts of revolt embedded in his symbolism could be labelled as Surrealist, even though they depict reality more than dreams, as with Frida Kahlo for example.
The use of oil drums is not entirely alien to the art world. They have been used by artists such as Christo and Jeanne Claude, Viktor Ehikhamenor, Marcel Pinas, Qie Zhijies, Cal Lane and many more, but the intrinsic purpose Arystanbek gives back to these objects is potent in its simplicity, it is both a denunciation of the economic situation Kazakhs are living today, and the devastating effects it has on the environment.
Malala Yousafzai said: “When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful” and Arystanbek Shalbayev is the very voice that through his mastery and great talent forces us all out of our emotional lethargy. A truly inspiring artist.
International Confederation of Art Critics