Your Unofficial Guide to Kyrgyz Republic

Kloop's Guide on Bishkek Mosaics

Kloop's Guide on Bishkek Mosaics

If you liked our guide on street art and graffiti we had earlier, you will definitely like this — yesterday Kloop published Bishkek mosaics guide. The author of the guide, Metin Dzhumagulov has interviewed one of the ShTAB members, School of Creative Actualization of the Future. 

What makes Bishkek mosaics special? How were they made? Who is responsible for them now? Samat Mambetshaev, a member of ShTAB, School of Creative Actualization of the Future, answers these questions.

'Shatters of Dream' is ShTAB's project about Bishkek mosaics, which was started by the activists back in 2012. The project's mission was to tell more about such a monumental art form as mosaic.

Samat Mambetshaev tells about what they discovered studying Bishkek mosaics during his interview to Kloop. The below is the story according to Samat Mambetshaev.

The whole project was about searching, we had no information at all. We had to visit archives, do interviews, collect opinions on each mosaic — to collect all information piece by piece. No one was interested in this then, so we are pioneers in this and we were setting the pace for the entire Central Asia.

One of the project's results was a Soviet mosaics map we made. We also held tours in the city showing this monumental art. The projects focus was on Frunze of sixties to eighties. That period was the peak of mosaic art.

There were different mosaics. Some were made by famous sculptors. The others were made on house building factories. Still, there are no significant differences between mosaics of different decades. Each of them is interesting in its own way.

Monumental art was a part of Soviet propaganda — sports, internationalism, labor, progress in science and technology, triumph of science, and rational knowledge.

There used to be large contests for making mosaic panels. Many sculptors offered their designs. And some were avant garde for their time, but still Soviet realism was favored — this is why mosaics in Bishkek are not radical.

According to the documents found, a certain budget was planned for mosaic production when constructing buildings. Sides of buildings, like pieces of canvas, were left for that beforehand.

By the way, mosaics were quite expensive and authors used to get large compensations.

The panels were usually made of smalto, a special type of strained glass from the Baltic states. It was durable and, with a proper treatment, mosaic would not age.

Today mosaics are simply untended. Many of them are in perfect condition and just need some cleaning.

One panel was lost. It is a famous 'Space and progress in science and technology' mosaic. It was ShTAB that initiated its repair.

I remember that our art director Oksana Shatalova wanted to take a photo of that mosaic and could not find it. And she was right at the place, where it was supposed to be. Accidentaly she saw the texture of the wall and figured out [it was covered with paint].

ShTAB sent a letter to the Mayor's Office, Ministry of Culture clamouring that it is a historic and cultural monument. Finally the owner was made to wash the mosaic and was fined for ridiculous amount of KGS 1,000.

The panel was washed, but only the tiles, joints cannot be washed clean any more. The wall also has holes drilled for air conditioners and the mosaic is crumbling away.

After that there was an incident with 'Aiperi' [a popular beauty salon in central part of Bishkek]. When a bar opened in 'Aiperi', our art directors were concerned about the future of the panel. The bar owners assured them the mosaic was not touched and was just covered with a plasterboard wall. But still no one can tell for sure it was not drilled or damaged any other way.

'Women' mosaic is unique, it was in perfect condition last time I saw it. Its uniqueness is in illustrating women — they are wearing European suits, traditional dresses and one of them is shown side-drawn.

Stylistically this mosaic is very international. It is a shame it is covered. It is one of my favorite ones.

'Labor' panel, for instance, symbolizes class structure of society of that time: a countrywoman, a worker, and an intellectual. And 'Sports, sports' promotes healthy lifestyle and is on the wall of a sports school.

'Lenin with Us' — here story of the panel is сentered around common characters — Lenin, Red Army, and etc.

'To You, Motherland, Our Labor' mosaic is interesting with the fact that it is rich with biography. It resembles a tapestry. The author, Theodor Herzen, used to live nearby and his wife, according to the legend, became a model for the monument. Cloth production on the panel is shown like some fairy-tale ritual.

'Prosper, Kirgizia' is one of the cases, when residents of the apartment building managed to protect the mosaic despite offers from advertisers. And now it is still there in plain sight.

'March' on 'the Southern Gates' of Bishkek initially was designed as a decorative panel. But state officials ordered to illustrate achievements in science, culture and agriculture in it. The authors made a compromise by showing people symbolizing those achievements.

Mosaics on the Arts Academy's wall are unique in a different way. They were made in 2004. Sculptor Alexei Kamensky, who used to teach there, made two mosaics ordered by the Academy on the sides of its building, which looked as if they were designed for panels. On top of that the process was educational — students took part in making the mosaic, starting from baking of ceramics and up to laying.

'Radio and Modern Age' panel is also unusual. The mosaic is made of pebble. It is unique in terms of colors and still looks very fresh. The theme is driven by the purpose of the radio center — radio waves are shown coming from a giant figure, who tamed visible and invisible matters.

Who are the owners of the mosaics and who is responsible for them? They belong to people. It is very important for citizens of Bishkek to understand that they own mosaics. They are mine like they are yours, but this temporary situation with privatization is very controversial.

A building can be owned by someone, but a mosaic in fact is public. Owners may not know it, not know it is a monument. And, like in case with 'Zapoi' club, damage it. When the mosaic was covered with paint, many felt their personal property was touched.

In addition to 'Space', 'Sports' is also in critical condition. The lower part of the panel is falling apart. The mosaic can be repaired, but who will deliver smalto? Where can one get it? Who needs doing that at all?

'Sportswomen' mosaic in the 5th micro-district has also been damaged. The upper part of the mosaic is covered, because the owner of the apartment desired to insulate it.

The others are in good condition, they just need some cleaning. Maintenance of mosaics is the Government's responsibility, it is part of their duties in relation to monuments.

I'm surprised, mosaics are becoming interesting again. Perhaps, it is related to the recent campaign on repairing Soviet monuments.

Recently the 'Sunny Fish' fountain was cleaned and the atom model was restored [next to the Academy of Science] as well as the 'Dolphin' swimming pool — we hope mosaics will not be forgotten too.

Of course, it is very important to what extent society knows about it. Hopefully, more people will pay attention to mosaics, сollective conscienceness is very important, to understand that all of those are our common treasure. We all rely on the authorities, but it is not only the Government's duty, but the entire society's.

Photos: Metin Dzhumagulov

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