The luscious and sensual display at Vienna's Secession is the work of a group of artists whose affection for Central Asia and untamed creativity translates into a live autobiography of the vast and culturally diverse region
In a uniquely light, humorous and unprejudiced way, the exhibition Not Moscow Not Mecca, carries the intellectual weight of the two grand narratives of Central Asia - Communism and Islam. "We want to be both happy and intellectual, cheerful and critical", Slavs and Tatars explained at a press conference in Vienna. At the entrance, two large watermelons in pots by Robert Oerley evoke the various connotations the fruit brings up in different regions: "In the USA, they are often used as a racist substitute for African-Americans, in Russia they recall the contested Caucasus, and in Europe the countries of origin of the migrant populations, be it Turkey, North Africa, etc."
The emotionally and sensorially enticing display is a vehicle telling the story of the linguistic, spiritual, emotional and political pluralism in the "region known as Eurasia to the east of the Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China". A veritable bazaar of Central Asian flora, in the Grafisches Kabinett pomegranates, sour cherries, cucumbers, persimmons, quinces, figs, apricots, and melons are served in bowls and form enormous sculptures to be contemplated from the comfortable Uzbeki mattresses. The presentation is simultaneously a shrine to the common roots of the diverse countries of the region. A globe with the uneven surface of a quince in lieu of earth’s smooth sphere challenges stereotypical notions. Coloured ribbons tied to the branches of a mulberry tree stand for the region's progressive religious syncretism including influences of Buddhism and Hinduism in Central Asian Islam.
By breathing life back into the vast, misunderstood and often forgotten region, the artist collective aims to "resuscitate" Eurasia. Using nothing but characteristic bits and pieces from its nature, with the sole agenda of drawing attention to it, the exhibition artistically weaves together the story of the intersection between Slav, Caucasian, and Central Asian influences. The Slavs and Tatars interest is of particular relevance in Vienna which, only a few blocks further, houses the only organisation uniting 56 countries dedicated to Central Asia and its inhabitants - the OSCE.
Wishing to remain largely anonymous - a collective of unnamed artists, The Slavs and Tatars joined together in 2006 with an artist from Poland and an artist from Iran heading up the group. They travel, conduct research, live on and off in Eurasia and plan to "dedicate the rest of our lives to this region, and we want to share our enthusiasm for it with others." With sharing and generosity as their main motto, they address issues of antiquity and the past, the marginal and oft-forgotten. Their work extends across several media and disciplines. Always in search of a basis for comparison, they discover similarities in the seemingly incomparable. Over the past years, the collective has realised projects like Kidnapping Mountains (2009), Hymns of No Resistance (2009), and Molla Nasreddin (2011). In Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz (2010), 79.89.09 (2010), and A Monobrow Manifesto (2010) the unexpected shared heritage of Iran and Poland is put in the spotlight. The exhibition is supported by the Polish Institute in Vienna.
The monumental Secession building in Vienna headquarters the Union of Austrian Artists. Formed in formed in 1897 by a group of Austrian artists who had resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, housed in the Vienna Künstlerhaus, its first president was Gustav Klimt.
For more information on the collective: www.slavsandtatars.com
Sources: press materials from Secession public relations department
Editor: Marta Jazowska