In I Will Never Forget This four Asian women follow a flock of sheep. Moving on all fours like the animals, they draw closer and farther away in an effort to join the herd, which does not, however, accept them and runs away. In images alternating between black and white and colour, past and present, the Kazakh women go in search of their roots and identity in relation to tradition and the world surrounding them. It is, however, only when they shed their modern clothes to bathe in a stream and braid their hair in a single plait that the purifying ritual ablution in sparkling waters seems to bring them closer to bodily reality and the female role. Importance also attaches in Almagul Menlibayeva’s visual tale to the acoustic dimension created by German Popov, alias OMFO, a mixture of elements ranging from folk melodies to modern club music that combines traditions and different temporal planes, just as the director does with her images.
Almagul Menlibayeva describes herself as a “punk shaman” intent on revitalizing the values of nature, spirituality and mysticism in the contemporary era with its characteristic veneration of rationality and technology. A leading figure in the post-Soviet contemporary art of Central Asia, she transposes customs and traditions of her native land into images and performances that often appear strange and mystical to Western eyes. The focal point of her work is the Kazakh woman and her identity, a figure politically exploited from the very outset in the history of Central Asia as the ideal of a strong and disciplined worker. After the end of Communism, the traditional image of woman is also in search of a new definition, just like the rest of society. Almagul Menlibayeva shows woman as the strong matriarch of the nomadic era. Free from patriarchal oppression and control, she gives new life to traditional shamanism and at the same time to female nakedness, both of which were forbidden under the Soviet regime.
Works by Almagul Menlibayeva (Almaty, Kazakhstan, 1969) have been presented in solo and group shows at numerous venues, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Central Asia Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennial, Rencontres Internationales at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the ZKM Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe and the Sydney Biennial. Almagul Menlibayeva lives and works in Amsterdam.