Moldakul Narymbetov  One-man band​

In the early 21st century the artists we now call the pioneers of Kazakhstani contemporary art, namely Shai-Zia, Sergei Maslov, Rustam Khalfin, and Moldakul Narymbetov, went on to the next world, one following the other. Those heart attacks and strokes are a sequence of that great tension they suffered in creating this new art under pressure, rejection and bullying. The audience in Europe loved them, especially Moldakul, who was an exotic thing for them wearing his dressing gown and unusual hat, and with the dombra in his hands. He was free and easy, he could find common ground with anybody without speaking any foreign language, he was able to fit seamlessly into an art sparkling atmosphere in Berlin, in smug Geneve museums, in Vienne squares, where he was beating his drums and played saz syrnai. He was a performer, painter, sculptor, musician, singer, outstanding organizer and negotiator; he was a motor of Kyzyl Tractor art group, which is now never named without a title of «legendary».


The first time Almaty people met Moldakul’s art was in Kasteyev museum in early 90s. It was a big solo exhibition curated by philosopher Rustem Dzhanguzhin, who called Narymbetov’s artwork «a true Kazakh painting.» Apparently he was talking about the techniques Moldakul mastered to express his impressions of daily life in Kazakhstani province, such as local unspecified rich colors, sudden shifts in composition, contrast in volumes and masses. In the exhibition hall there were red apples on the stumps, and the artist was singing and playing dombra with a bandage over his eyes. It was an avantgarde exhibit for that time though the art of South Kazakhstan was always respected by professionals.


There were rumours about Shymkent structural school by Vitaliy Simakov, a teacher from Ufa, Russia, who had invited artists to study the art of the 20th century in action implying sophisticated experiments not many people understood at that time. Soon everybody heard the names of Moldakul Narymbetov, Smail Bayaliyev, Arystanbek Shalbayev, and Said Atabekov.


In the middle of 90s after a series of Kyzyl Tractor exhibitions in Almaty galleries they announced A Journey to the Land of East (1995). The artists travelled to the village of Kurik Shelter at the bottom of Kazygurt mountain, where together with local people they created installations from branches, felt pieces, leaves and textiles, played musical instruments, imitated shaman dances. They were unaware that their actions could be determined as «performance», and their exhibits as «installations», but they were determined on their main trend of «traveling, walking, pilgrimaging» as reconstruction of nomadic traditions unremembered after Soviet collectivizations, confiscations and industrializations.


They practiced long «walking» like the one along the area of the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawia, or like earlier mentioned Journey to the Land of East, or simply walking in circles in exhibition halls. This action symbolically coopted the experience of great Syr Darya ancient civilizations including shepherd, shaman, hunting, military, dervish ones, and even all the civilizations of Great Silk Road. The household items they took for journeys such as smouldering adraspan grass, besik (Kazakh traditional cradle), drums, textile and felt bales were contributing to the idea of minimalism of nomadic life and their ability to conquer long distance carrying all the positions in hands.


In all the historical, anthropological and even political meanings of these performances they did not sound official and didn’t appeal to excessive claims. Their format – the game and improvisation – called on grotesque, since the artists especially Moldakul were very conscious of the audience’s curiosity about exoticism. Given the renewed interest to postcolonial studies and orientalism at the outset of the new millennium the Red Tractors gently utilized irony and self-irony as a tool for protection from particularly serious perception of themselves.


The costumes they chose were only hinting at authenticity, for example Moldakul was wearing a gown with cowboy boots, Smail Bayaliyev had a sleeveless tunic of thick felt, and there was «Caution! Antipersonnel mines!» printed on Said Atabekov’s dervish dress. Musical accompaniment was always provided by Moldakul, he was beating his drum, playing saz syrnai and dombra, and crying out some incomprehensible exclamations. There was always some portion of excessiveness and parody that would be a delusion for the audience and would bring them back to reality.


The performance as spontaneous action would give same impression of easiness, recklessness and improvisation as his paintings, for example The Sunflower series is unruly, bright, contrasting, full with open color and unexpected angles. Same with a rubber sculpture sophistically made from old car tires. It was worth looking at Moldakul after the performance, at his tired sweaty face and trembling hands after the nervous tension. Moldakul used to play characters of a naive village eccentric, a wandering troubadour, and even a royal joker, but they all blend away after realizing the power of his talent, great personal charm and extremely hard work he did to create his art. His eternal rival in the poetic competition of Aytys was the life itself.


Valeriya Ibrayeva 2017