Exhuming the Ideological Corpse of Soviet Socialism: Marat Raiymkulov — by Maya Kóvskaya
February 23, 2019
Art critic, curator and theorist Maya Kóvskaya presents the Pol Pot series of drawings by Kyrgyz contemporary artist Marat Raiymkulov, providing a broad perspective into understanding the artist’s work in its post-Soviet Central Asian context. The article discusses the relevance of the Pol Pot set of drawings and “hand-drawn animations” (displayed here in video form) to reflect on the multiple ways in which Marxism and Leninism embedded itself in everyday Central Asian life and continued to exert its influence on the region and on its peoples during the post-Soviet era. Kóvskaya explains how Raiymkulov effectively employs his unique visual language to explore the ways that “people live within an ideological field” brought about by a Marxist-Leninist cultural legacy in contemporary Kyrgyzstan. In contextualizing Raiymkulov’s work, Kóvskaya brings our attention to the great details embedded within the artist’s oeuvre that further uncover the greater complexities of his place of origin along with reflections on questions of ideology, state, nationhood, community, discourse, the “social power of Capital,” among others. The article is accompanied here by captioned images from the artist’s work along with five animations in video format that integrate the Pol Pot series.

The Pol Pot drawing series by Kyrgyz contemporary artist Marat Raiymkulov is not actually about the genocidal Khmer Marxist-Leninist revolutionary himself, per se, nor it is set in Southeast Asia. Rather, the invocation of Pol Pot raises the specter of the violent corporeal embodiments of power and ideology. Much of Raiymkulov’s work uses drawing and hand-drawn animation to explore political and philosophical questions, existentialist absurdities, and offer visual provocations for our times, sometimes closely tethered to the post-Soviet Central Asian context, and at other times, more far ranging in subject matter. Across the spectrum of his practice, Raiymkulov’s works attempt to interrogate patriarchal, traditional family structures, and the homological relations of those structures with technocratic class divisions, the systemic exploitation of both women and the land, the constitutive social power of Capital, and attendant ideologies of “productivity.” He is also interested in exploring “the inadequacy of logical-linguistic tools for interpreting reality,” and what he refers to as “the democratic illusion.”

In his Pol Pot works, of which these are just a selection, Raiymkulov uses his characteristic visual language to consider “how people live within an ideological field.” He explains that in post-Soviet Central Asia, this question is intimately connected to the way Marxism and Leninism were incorporated into everyday life during the Soviet period, leaving a cultural legacy of modes of thought and practices that has continued through the present to exert profound influences on life in the region. This influence, the artist argues, extends to practices of self-making and corporeality, which continue to be constituted, in part under the shadow of this ideological field.

Raiymkulov’s interest in the corporeal manifestations of these hangover ideological and discursive paradigms echoed in contemporary Central Asia extends from cultural constructions of “the body of the leaders in the Soviet space,” to constructions of both leadership and ordinary people, as well as contemplating how “the body is inscribed” in the post-Soviet context. Although it may seem that this is an issue that has long been exhausted, he argues, in fact it continues to persist in crypto-political cultural forms.

The Pol Pot series, like many of Raiymkulov’s other works, looks at absurdities and paradoxes initially constituted in the Soviet period. He is also interested in the structural homologies of body, self, family, group, community, Nation and State instantiated these ideological practices, asserting that “here again and again there are questions of bodily structures…I resort to the image [rather than performance, in these works]…I do not investigate from the side of the victims,” of this form of political and social order, “but from the side of the ideology,” which “works as a narrative, like a story that talks about the body” in its many instantiations. Thus, the appearance of bodily figures in this work is not so much to create a narrative about the individuals whose bodies suffered under the regime in question, per se, but rather to address, visually, how “corporeality in the field of ideology turns out to be a problematic site” where post-Soviet paradoxes persist.  

Born in Bishkek (then Frunze), Kyrgyzstan (then the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic) in 1984, Raiymkulov lost his mother when he was a child, and he and his brother were then raised by their brilliant, idiosyncratic father. The family patriarch created a backyard Bonsai garden in their home in Bishkek as a staging ground for the eclectic and syncretic educational and self-cultivation practices that he conceived out of Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism, and Zen Buddhist philosophy—what he called Zen Marxism. This pedagogical mode of self-cultivation consisted of an amalgam of hard labor in the garden (digging pits, excavating earth, piling rocks, and various tasks related to botanical cultivation), combined with martial arts, meditation, intense reading, and vigorous philosophical sparring that often centered around using the battlefield sensibilities of an imagined “Zen Marxist Samurai” to resolve dialectical conflicts, explore paradoxes, resolve contradictions, and cultivate a unique kind of “Garden Warrior” capable of rising to the challenges of our time.

About the Artist: Marat Raiymkulov
Marat Raiymkulov is an internationally recognized contemporary artist, whose works have been shown widely across Central Asia, at the Central Asia Pavilion during the 54th edition of The Venice Biennial, Italy (2011); Laura Bulian Gallery, Milano, Italy (2012); the Oslo Screen Festival, Norway (2013); Art Dubai (2014); The Centre d’Art Contemporain, Switzerland (2015); die Grenze in Moscow (2017); the Asia Society during Asia Contemporary Art Week in New York (2017), and in many others international contexts. He is also a professor of physics, a director of experimental theater, an actor, a founding member and the creative nucleus of the Bishkek-based art space and collective, Group 705. His oeuvre ranges from performance lecture, animation and video art, drawings and installation, to the direction and production of plays, as well as dramaturgical writing, fiction, and essays.


Pol Pot series, 2017, select images courtesy of the artist



Pol Pot series, 2017, select animation (videos) courtesy of the artist


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About the Contributor

<a href="https://www.inversejournal.com/author/maya-kovskaya/" target="_self">Maya Kóvskaya</a>

Maya Kóvskaya

Winner of the 2010 Yishu Award for Critical Art Writing, ecological political theorist, curator and cultural critic, Maya Kóvskaya (PhD UC Berkeley, 2009) has authored, co-authored, edited, translated, and contributed to numerous books and articles on the intersection of contemporary art with the political, cultural, and ecological. She has taught and lectured extensively contemporary Asian art, the Anthropocene, politics, culture, contemporary Asian art, and the curatorial, at universities, museums, and public institutions worldwide. As curator and critic, and/or academic advisor, she has worked on over 35 contemporary art exhibitions and public art interventions across Asia, Europe, and North America. She is Art Editor for positions: Asia Critique (Duke University Press), and a member of the ongoing Anthropocene Project organized by the HKW and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.