Syrlybek Bekbotayev

Red Filter, 2014–18
Series of photographs

Syrlybek Bekbotayev’s “Red Filter” series focuses on one of the most tragic periods of history of Kazakhstan. The Stalinist Terror of 1930s claimed millions of lives but most importantly set into motion the ideological machinery for memory erasure. Hundreds of names of purged intellectuals were forgotten for decades and historical narratives got ‘distorted.’ This distortion and numerous ruptures of memory and history become the core of the series where Bekbotayev depicts many of the victims of the Great Terror – the first generation of Kazakh political and cultural elites of Alash party. The artist downloads portraits of these intellectuals, writers and politicians from the Internet and then deconstructs each image along the horizontal and vertical lines to demonstrate the continuous distortion. While these faces are emblematic for contemporary Kazakhstan they also symbolize the seventy years of generational and historical cultural amnesia. Little is known about the fate of these intellectuals after 1937 and most of these biographies end with the following: “perished,” “repressed,” and their burial sites remain unknown. What is left of them are their works and their portraits. Bekbotayev uses the pictorial distortion of the image as a critical reflection of the cultural amnesia and totalitarianism. The ‘red’ filter symbolizes the Communist filter of the twentieth century. Most of the portraits Bekbotayev presents are recognizable by the Kazakhstani citizens who also immediately see the ‘distortions.’ These distortions also represent different ideas to different audiences – both the Communist past but also the current political and historical attitude towards history of Kazakhstan and its most tragic periods.

Text by Barbara Hyvert, Stimultania