Forever Umai

Almagul Menlibayeva


Photography, 96.5 x 127 x 5.5 cm.
Materials: cibachrome

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. S0441_03).

The three images in light boxes The Observer, Forever Umai, and Tengri Boy (2010) are key moments stills, from Kazakhstan-born artist Almagul Menlibayeva’s film Milk of Lambs (2010). In this work, Menlibayeva researches the rebuilding of national identity in Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union, often referencing religious or mythological scenes and concepts that take their beginning from the Shamanistic traditions of Kazakh nomads. 
A young woman covering her eyes with dead foxes impersonates a contemporary portrait of a Kazakh woman. In Forever Umai, one can see the goddess of fertility and virginity Umai with a man who lies at her feet hugging a sheep. It’s unclear if both of them — the sheep and the man — are dead or alive. In the third still, Tengri Boy, the artist places a modern impersonation of the god of creation Tengri, who repeats the gesture of holding a sheep — a symbol for the protection of his own culture. In the images, gods are young, as the nation after the rebirth. 
People stand strong in the endless land, it is the people who determine what is the centre of the world, the centre of society. 
Menlibayeva researches the question of national identity as a counter-colonial practice which was and remains relevant in Ukrainian history nowadays. In these works, the artist shows connections between the body and the native landscape of the Steppe, in Kazakhstan, to help people see the resemblance and build stronger connections with the native land. 

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