Kazakhstani contemporary artist Assel Sargaskayeva‘s work is renowned for its vibrant colors and meticulous detail, interlaced with emotional depth. Her practice, a unique blend of cultural, religious, and historical research, probes themes of good and evil, life and death, as well as the diverse doctrines central to spirituality, focusing particularly on women’s roles within these realms.
Women inherently possess strength, an inherited power that is now being actively wielded. Despite the passage of time
Initially embarking on a career far removed from the art world, Sargaskayeva ascended the banking and international finance ladder, establishing herself as a formidable banking executive. Yet, the siren call of art, a constant companion since her youth, continued to echo in the recesses of her soul as she balanced her demanding finance career with a sincere dedication to nurturing her artistic talents.
Characterised by expressive abstraction, Sargaskayeva’s work comprises sinuous lines and shapes that coalesce into a kaleidoscope of hues, crafting an intriguing dance of organic forms and patterns. Upon closer inspection, these reveal stylised floral motifs, abstract figures, enigmatic signs, and symbols steeped in sanctity.
In her latest exhibition, ‘Enchanted,’ Sargaskayeva explores mystical female forms, delving into their revered roles across various religious cultures.
This exhibition also continues her ‘Silk Road’ series, delving into the nuances of a woman’s contented life and the liberation of her creativity, topics deeply rooted in Sargaskayeva’s cultural upbringing.
Sargaskayeva initiated this global series of exhibition projects titled ‘The Silk Road,’ which began in her hometown, Almaty, then moved to London, where she spent eight years studying and working, followed by New York, where she lived and studied for four years. In June 2024, the series will be hosted in Sochi, reflecting her two years of work in Russia, and will conclude in Beijing, the symbolic origin of the Silk Road.
Each of these exhibitions aligns with Sargaskayeva’s mission to raise awareness of the importance of balance in relationships between men and women and to showcase Kazakhstan’s culture to the world. ‘Enchanted‘ is not just an artistic endeavour but also a reflection of Sargaskayeva’s spiritual journey. We spoke with her to learn more about her practice and to unravel the layers of meaning in her creations.
Please share a bit about your journey as an artist. When did your passion for art ignite, and were there pivotal moments or mentors that notable influenced your direction?
Assel Sargaskayeva: The more I ponder on this question, the clearer it becomes that my passion for creating something new was sparked by my grandfather. During the post-USSR era, there was a patriotic movement to enroll children, including my father, in Kazakh schools. At the age of 6, I had no command of the language, and resources for learning were scarce.
I remember a homework assignment from our Kazakh teacher, asking us to write 20 proverbs on weather and winter, topics I had no knowledge of. With no internet or Kazakh books available, my last resort was my grandfather, a renowned Kazakh writer. We spent countless evenings coming up with what was required.
His calm and innovative approach gave me the initial impetus to create and the belief that anything is possible. Next in line is my mother. She’s been the consistent source of inspiration throughout the years, the unwavering support every artist needs. For me, she’s the solid foundation, the wall against which I can build my dreams. Without her, aiming for the stars would seem like an unattainable feat.
Lastly, my son serves as my ongoing inspiration. I once told him that my legacy to him would be my collection of books and paintings. He embraced this idea wholeheartedly. So, I create with him in mind, shaping a meaningful legacy for the future.
Your name “Assel” means Star of the East. What’s the story behind your parents choosing your name and what does it signify for you?
Assel Sargaskayeva: My father initiated his career as a geologist. In my youth, he devoted extensive time to expeditions. Upon his return, he would affectionately inquire about his daughter, ‘The Star of the East.’ I’d rush to him for a hug and a kiss. Growing up, it became a family understanding that I was my father’s first daughter, the guiding star leading him back home.
In what way do you feel women show their strength and how do you think the evolution of their image and place in society has changed throughout time?
Assel Sargaskayeva: Women inherently possess strength, an inherited power that is now being actively wielded. Despite the passage of time, I doubt that the evolution of their image has undergone radical changes, and their place in society has remained relatively constant. Throughout history, women have consistently held a crucial role, akin to the neck supporting the head represented by men.
How has becoming a mother shaped the way you create art and what it means?
Assel Sargaskayeva: It certainly did shape the way that I create, although I wasn’t the first to notice the change—my mother was. My paintings became more vibrant and colorful, reflecting the joy my children bring to my life. Moreover, there was a noticeable shift towards maturity and deeper philosophical context, infusing my artworks with added meaning.
How would you describe your relationship with religion and spirituality?
Assel Sargaskayeva: I identify myself as agnostic, acknowledging a Divine Spirit guiding our path. During my travels, I take joy in visiting mosques, churches, monasteries, and temples. I delve into the teachings of the Quran, Bible, and Buddha, exploring numerous spiritual books. I firmly believe in the ample space for diverse beliefs. Similar to traditions, the more one learns, the clearer it becomes that commonalities exist, yet differences highlight the uniqueness of each religion. *Paintings for reference on this topic: Cross. There is a short description about the work on my Instagram page.
Every artist has their sanctuary – the studio. Out of curiosity, which three items would you say are indispensable in your workspace?
Assel Sargaskayeva: I do have a studio, yet I often find myself painting in various locations – the kitchen, on the beach, in the hotel during the business trip or vacation, or even on a plane. What matters most is my mindset during the creative process, my choice of drawing tools, and the right atmosphere for inspiration.
Looking forward, what lies on the horizon for Assel? Are there themes or subjects you haven’t delved into but are itching to?
Assel Sargaskayeva: As long as I haven’t reached the final chapter of the last book on earth, the horizon remains expansive for me. While my overarching theme is consistently centered on women, there’s always more to explore. Recently, I delved into the art series ‘Magnificent Century,’ unraveling the narrative of the Ottoman Empire’s rise and fall, with a keen focus on the influential women of that era. Hurrem Sultan, a trailblazer for female influence, inspired me to capture her and the men of her ‘harem’ in my paintings.
My current exhibition, titled ‘Enchanted,’ delves into mystical female images, exploring their sacred roles in religious cultures and reflecting my personal spiritual quest.
In preparation for my London exhibition, I immersed myself in books by Asian authors, uncovering numerous angles yet to be explored. I hold the hope that, within my lifetime, I’ll continue to unveil these untold stories.
In your words, what essence does art hold for you?
Assel Sargaskayeva: It’s more than just skin; it’s my second nature. Through it, I articulate my thoughts and feelings about specific subjects, people, and events.
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