Priska C. Juschka Fine Art presents Daughters of Turan, Almagul Menlibayeva’s third solo exhibition of video and photography at the gallery. In the Steppes of her native Kazakhstan, Menlibayeva stages and films complex mythological narratives, with reference to her own nomadic heritage and the Shamanistic traditions of the cultures of Central Asia.
Daughters of Turan explores the emotional and spiritual residues of an ancient belief system as well as a historic conflict, still resonating among the peoples of Central Asia today, between the Zoroastrian ideology of former Persia, spreading widely across Eurasia and influencing Western politicians and philosophers and the Tengriism (sky religion) of the Turkic tribes, reaching as far as the Pacific Ocean. Tūrān, the ancient Iranian name for Central Asia, the land of the Tur, inhabited by nomadic tribes, takes center stage signifying the relationship between the male and the female principles ingrained in the stories, myths and ritual practices of a widespread population and its cultures.
The nurturing earth goddess Umai and favorite wife of Tengri, the god of the sky, much like Gaia in the Greek mythology, created life also gynogenetic, out of herself, and symbolizes the close relationship of the people to the land and its given riches, without agriculture, by animals and humans feeding off her body and drinking her milk. The elusive sky god Tengri, foremost living on in Christianity, where then becoming omnipotent, is here still in his adolescent phase – while Umai satiates the voracious appetite of her inhabitants, Tengri watches over her body, the plains of the great Steppes of Central Asia, playfully entertaining several other wives and fathering many children.
Menlibayeva reaches further into the psychological fabric of the people living today on the Steppes which their ancestors had traversed before they were forced to settle down, first by Persia and China to become peasants and in the 20th century by the Soviet Union in a cultural genocide. Umai, said to have sixty golden strands, still has her ‘daughters’ today, the female population, engaging in the same acts as their predecessors, symbolizing the circle of life, the most powerful Shaman symbol by making sure the circle remains undisturbed and intact, reflected in Menlibayeva’s video, Milk for Lambs. From this perspective, all men remain ultimately adolescent- feeding on the female riches, “When I look at the Steppe, it reminds me of my body, dry and in some places hairy,” referenced in all roundness of all things, “When I look at the round yurts and tables, they remind me of my breasts.” (lyrics, Milk for Lambs, Menlibayeva).