Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev, ‘New Silk Road’, 2006, Winkleman Gallery
Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev, ‘New Silk Road’, 2006, Winkleman Gallery
Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev, ‘New Silk Road’, 2006, Winkleman Gallery

“A New Silk Road: Algorithm of Survival and Hope” is a stunning five-channel video, commissioned in 2007 by the Art Institute of Chicago. Shot along the highways and small villages connecting China through the Central Asian country Kyrgyzstan to the Western markets—one of the actual routes that still form the renowned “Silk Road”—Kasmalieva and Djumaliev’s images and video capture the determination and resourcefulness that define this mountainous, poverty-stricken region. As Lisa Dorin, Assistant Curator of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Contemporary Art, wrote in her essay on the commission, “The five-channel video installation…provides an abstract set of instruction for resilience in the face of hardship.” Indeed, the central messages of “The New Silk Road” take on a wider poignancy as the entire world begins to reel from an economic crisis that seems to know no boundaries.

Subtitled “Algorithm of Survival and Hope,” the five-channel video presents a nearly hypnotic panorama of exquisitely edited scenes juxtaposing the dilapidated Soviet trucks (that continuously break down as they haul carriages of scrap metal from Central Asia into China) against the caravan of shiny, behemoth Chinese 18-wheelers barreling through the narrow passes filled with cheaply manufactured good destined for European markets. Along the way, the residents of the Kyrgyz farms and tiny towns exhibit stunning entrepreneurial ingenuity in finding ways to bond with and benefit from the drivers of both sets of trucks. Dorin summarized the piece beautifully, noting “Devoid of nostalgia for the ancient Silk Road, with all of its romantic connotations, the project foregrounds instead the contradictory currents in the existence faced by the living, breathing populations along these well-worn trade routes.”

About Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev

In photographic and video installations, Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev provide a glimpse of the harsh political and economic realities in their native Kyrgyzstan. In Metal Truck Caravan (2006), for example, they documented the original “silk roads” now used for modern day import and export; the rusty old Kyrgyz trucks cart out junk metal to be traded as scrap for inexpensive Chinese clothes, a stark contrast to the brand new Chinese trucks going the other way and bringing ever more factory goods into Kyrgyzstan. Music often pays an important part in these installations, adding a subjective and emotional quality to the viewing experience. Kasmalieva and Djumaliev co-curate the contemporary art biennial in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.

Kyrgyzstani, 1960 and 1965, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan