Venice Biennale: Wanted Pavilion of
Kazakhstan (press-release).

Link to the online exhibition:


Venice (Italy), May 8, 2019 – ARTMEKEN GALLERY presents the exhibition project «Wanted Pavilion: Bad Jokes». The project’s objective is to create an alternative pavilion of Kazakhstan at the Venice Biennale on the basis of the exhibition “Bad Jokes” that took place in Almaty (December of 2018) and Astana (February of 2019) to provide the context for the real pavilion cancellation.

In early March of 2019, Kazakhstan was shaken by the news that the announced participation of the country in the Venice Biennale would not take place. The reason was simple. The Ministry of Culture had not allocated the budget for the event. This glaring mishap pushed the creators of Ariapp mobile app Zoya Falkova and Anton Platonov, as well Artmeken Gallery and art historian Valeria Ibraeva to creating the project “Wanted Pavilion: Bad Jokes”.

“Wanted Pavilion: Bad Jokes” is the virtual Kazakhstan pavilion in Venice based on the exhibition “Bad Jokes”. You can “visit” the pavilion online using Ariapp mobile app, which can be downloaded from both the App Store and Google Play. Also, the posters of the artworks will be presented in Venice during the pre-opening, and, using the image recognition in the app, the viewers there will get access to the audio guide telling the story of the “missing pavilion” of Kazakhstan through the curatorial comments to the presented artworks.

The exhibition “Bad Jokes” was a huge success in Almaty and in Astana (now Nur-Sultan). Both exhibitions were supported by the UN Human Rights Office in Central Asia and the Soros Foundation.


19 works of 16 Kazakhstani artists took part in the exhibition; they are, among others, Bakhyt Bubikanova, Yelena Vorobyeva and Viktor Vorobyov, Yerbosyn Meldibekov, Erden Zikibay, Zoya Falkova, Mansur Smagambetov, Nurbol Nurakhmet, Pavel Ovchinnikov, Rashid Nurekeyev, Saule Dyussembina, Kuanysh Bazargaliyev, Amir and Bakhtiyar Shaykezhanov, Aigerim Makhitzhan, Aruzhan Zhumabek. The works are executed in various techniques: video, ceramics, painting, installation, graphics, sculpture.


Art historian and the curator of “Bad Jokes” Valeria Ibraeva commented on her participation in the “Wanted Pavilion: Bad Jokes” like this:


“Both exhibitions (“Bad Jokes” in Almaty and Astana) were extensively covered by the press and there were almost no incidents, except for the threat from an unknown visitor to tear down the exhibition because of certain artworks dedicated to the LGBT rights. Anyway, the artistic community of not only Kazakhstan but also the world art circles were shocked by the brazen refusal of the Ministry of Culture to fulfill its obligations to finance the first pavilion of Kazakhstan. Curator Nadim Julien Samman was invited by the Ministry of Culture of Kazakhstan and had worked on the pavilion for half a year. The artistic community of the country, which, for the first time in 25 years of independence, fostered hopes for the first national pavilion in Venice in 2019, was slapped in the face instead: all the agreements, negotiations, and assiduous preparation by 4 selected young artists, the Ministry suddenly announced its decision in mid-March, right before the press conference of the Venetian project in London. This bad joke of the state angered not only the local art community but also the general public and had
wide international reach as well.

Therefore, now, at this Biennale in Venice, we are presenting the project “Wanted Pavilion: Bad Jokes” as a continuation of the artistic research by Kazakhstani artists looking into the situation with human rights of the artist and the curator in our blessed country. Artists are capable of joking too. For now.”

Satpayeva, co-founder of ARTMEKEN GALLERY:
“It was very important for our young gallery to support the project financially and morally. At the Biennale in Venice, we plan to talk about Kazakhstani art, about our artists and, of course, about why we felt it necessary to promote the project “Wanted Pavilion: Bad Jokes”. As for the promotion media, there will be T-shirts, postcards, and bags with QR-codes to download the app and learn the story. The word “Wanted” will be on all of them. Yes, we will be looking for the Kazakhstan pavilion, which was announced and
needed, but never happened to arrive at this largest and most popular world forum of contemporary art. And you can find our pavilion online in Ariapp application.”      


Artworks overview (curator’s text).


The year 2018 in Kazakhstan was marked by the emergence of powerful civil initiatives that were triggered by several dramatic events. The movements “We demand the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs” and “Save Kok Zhailau” united people who understand that actions (or
inactions) of the authorities were a direct threat to their health and even their lives. The state’s desire and moves to limit opportunities for expressing dissent have taken absurdist forms that even Ionesco himself would have envied. Disrupting the internet access, banning blue balloons, holding ridiculous media trials, the “reform” of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which ended up with just the modified police uniform, Denis Ten’s posthumous awarding with the medal “For Merits in Law Enforcement”, were perceived by the public as bad jokes bordering on mockery.

The exhibition “Human Rights: Twenty Years Later” held in December of last year demonstrated that people of art did not consider themselves separated from the life of society, but, on the contrary, reacted, rather sharply, to situations arising in the country, fixating and summarizing the violations and distortions of fundamental rights. This 2019 exhibition, launched ahead of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was even more relevant—without saying a word, artists produced artworks, ironically and satirically playing around
certain situations that emerged in connection with violations of fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan.

The master of collage, Pavel Ovchinnikov, in his complex selection of clippings from various print media shows how noisy and interconnected the world is, how intertwined by electronic cables, networks, and contacts. The only empty area of the collage alludes to total silence is Kazakhstan, in which Internet access is suspended without announcements but with sufficient regularity (Untitled, 2018). Therefore, in the video “Tom and
Jerry” (2018), Bakhyt Bubikanova tries to hide something from the eyes of the viewer, climb into the mouse hole, cover her mobile phone, the source of information, with her hands and body. Erden Zikibay (“Adas”, 2018) and Saule Dyussenbina (“There is always hope”, 2018) talk about children affected by the spectra of attitudes towards them from outright cruelty to a simple yet inexplicable ban on ordinary toys (blue balloons). For instance, Saule Dyussenbina, almost literally, reproduces the famous work of Banksy, recently sold at Sotheby’s with the scandal, changing only one small detail, the red color of the balloon in the original is replaced with the forbidden blue. The idea of violence applied to children reaches its climax in the case of an attempt by adults to defend both children’s and their own rights. In the
painting “Constellation” (2018) of Nurbol Nurakhmet, a monument to Abai erected on a pedestal overlooks from its high position a map of Almaty on which dots flicker like stars—these are places of “unauthorized” rallies that took place in the past. Yelena Vorobyeva and Viktor Vorobyov analyze situations or, more precisely, the positions in which the police find themselves chasing people away in the streets (Vintazh, 2018). They line up in a row or in a tight group, trying to cope with the resisting “material”—in this case, an old red blanket. Like Dyussenbina, artists sarcastically capture the moments of thoughtless enforcement acts: the policemen do not care what needs to be subjected to
“vintazh” (twisting)—a person, a blanket, a balloon. All they know, it needs to be restrained, prohibited, taken away. The version of this graphic series, by the way, was a great success at an art fair in Dubai, and was almost completely bought up by Arab art lovers. The theme of police chasing people is continued by Zoya Falkova in her parody of the black-figure ancient Greek pottery. As a feminist activist, she did not fail to invade the masculine world of ancient Greek Olympic theme, calling her work “Her own fault” (2018), a classic phrase that emerges in any disputes about domestic violence and attacks on women. A way out for all these situations is suggested by Rashid Nurekeev in the installation “The Other Side of the Wind. A Hitching Post” (2018) using the ancient contraption implemented in the steppe to keep livestock at bay. The metaphor is obvious.

The theme of the “fixed” is expressed even more literally by Erbosyn Meldibekov, using his old photos of people crushed by stones or buried in the ground for creating his new artworks. This series was devoted to research on the nature of violence and was called “Pol Pot (2000-2001). The recent information from neighboring Uzbekistan about harassment of workers who did not fulfill the plan of harvesting cotton forced the artist to recall the old series and continue with, this time documentary, images (The Invasion, 2018). A series of pretentious titles and there are quite a few at the exhibition, is complemented by the sculpture of the artist from Astana Mansur Smagambetov. His “Breakthrough” (2018) installation is a whole squadron of planes assembled from metal water cans. In his work’s annotation, the artist complains about the lack of time rural children experience when they are forced to constantly carry water from the stand-pipe for the needs of the family instead of studying or playing sports games as children should. The can-planes, the artist’s ironic proposal to ease the work of children and give them the opportunity to learn, are highlighted when one remembers the recent EXPO called “Energy of the Future”. In 2019, the baton was picked up from Almaty artists by Aigerim Makhitzhan (the installations “Trans-Siberian Express”, 2019, and “Qaraly Sulular”, 2019), who creates works reflecting on the youth issues and women’s place in Kazakhstan, Aruzhan Zhumabek (“Fragments”, 2019) whose series of posters directly illustrates articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and painter Saule Maliyeva who ingeniously depicted, on her canvas called “Axiom” (2019), the bureaucratic soulless attitude to the person.

To access the “Bad Jokes” virtual exhibition with the audio guide, you need to download Ariapp ( from App Store or Google Play.

Contact person: 

Gulmira Pazilova  (ARTMEKEN gallery, Almaty)

mob: + 7 701 111 95 01

ARIAPP.IO — mobile application providing the instrument to create audio guides to galleries, museums and artists.


ARTHIVE.COM — a platform for museums, galleries and artists. Information and technical partner of the exhibition project.

Link to the online exhibition:

Artmeken Gallery is a contemporary art institution located in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It is one the few independent exhibition spaces in the country. The mission of the gallery is to represent and support Kazakhstani, Central Asian and international artists through organizing exhibitions, art residences and educational events.

© Artmeken Gallery, 2019