Visual art is a relatively young form of art in Kazakhstan. The Kasteyev Museum in Almaty offers visitors a representative overview of works by Kazakh visual artists from the 1930s.
The realistic works of the classic Abylkhan Kasteyev (1904-1973) show a country full of contradiction. On the one hand, they include lyrical descriptive testimonies of a wanderer in the land such as the portrait of folk minstrel Zhambyl, the image of people crowding at the natural ice skating site Medeu or the panorama of the Talas plain. In sharp contrast to those stand progress-oriented works like Turksib (railway construction across steppes and mountains) Kapshagay (construction of a dam on the Ili River). What the works have in common is a high level of drawing precision. For forty years, Kasteyev accompanied the development of Kazakhstan with its paintings.
Many paintings from the 1940s and early 1950s can be described as «socialist euphoria». Painters like Bortnikov were driven to glorify Soviet power. After the ideological account of Stalinism had been settled, the arts were also engaged in efforts to find an identity of their own. Works of people like Telzhanov, Shayakhmetov and Ismailova show a cautious trend away from uniform ideological positions. The 1960s and 1970s generated a vast variety of both critical and less critical social-realist paintings. A wonderful example is the painting «Festivity Day» by Aralbayev, which hangs in the Kasteyev Museum. During the 1980s, realism went over the top and paintings could be qualified as «satirical realism». The paintings of Aliyev should be mentioned in this context. In addition, two Kazakh sculptors should be highlighted, whose works strikes attention by their impressive expressivity. The first is Rakhmanov, whose work is also exhibited in the Kasteyev Museum, whereas the second is Shokan Tolesh with his small emotional bronze and stone sculptures.
In independent Kazakhstan a wide variety of artistic schools and trends coexists. From picturesque landscapes and political portraits to mystified historic and national themes, often shrouded in veils of oil and chalk, from surrealistic representations of a changing world to still lives anything can be found. A good place to look into modern visual arts is the Tengri-Umay gallery in Almaty. The highly motivated staff of this gallery in 2002 organized the Kazakh artistic biennale. What strikes attention in the paintings of most Kazakh artists is their colorfulness: the magic of their strong, warm, earthly colors can hardly escape.
Dagmar Schreiber «Exploring Kazakhstan»