One feature that has always stood out to me, as an American, about post-Soviet Central Asian cities is the lack of a culture of street art. The presence of quasi-anonymous public art gives voice to the thoughts and feelings of people who do not see themselves represented in the wider media and public culture. It also serves as a way to critique political power and broadly held assumptions about institutions and whom they really serve. (See the website of British artist Banksy.)
Before this trip to Bishkek, the most interesting street art that I had seen in the region was in Kazakhstan. In Almaty, I came across a graffiti-esque rendering of Ablai-Khan, copied from the 100 Tenge bank note painted on the concrete walls of a dry canal. Given this previous dearth of street art, I was awed and surprised to see this picture on a wall in Oak Park on my first day in Bishkek:
When I asked people here what the picture was referring to, I was told that these types of images began appearing during the tense weeks leading up to the April revolution. The text coming out of the goose’s beak reads “Too many rumors.” We can understand this as commentary on the fact that there has been a general lack of transparency and secrecy within the small, elite circles that constitute both political and economic power in Kyrgyzstan.
As I explored the city further, I found more examples of street art, often obliquely critiquing capitalist values of unfettered accumulation.
Not only are these works politically engaged, they are also executed with superior skill and exist in dialogue with the global street art that appears in other cities around the world. The artists or group that signs these works calls him/her/them-selve(s) “Dope.” As I move deeper into the local art world (I will be DJing some events at the Б’Art Contemporary Art Center here in Bishkek), I hope to meet Dope in person and learn more about the background behind these art interventions.
I will leave you, dear reader, with this image imploring us to move beyond what we think are our limits, what we are told are the boundaries of possibility.