Certainly from the standpoint of many around the world, hybridity, mobility, and difference do not immediately appear as liberatory in themselves. Huge populations see mobility as an aspect of their suffering because they are displaced at an increasing speed in dire circumstances……but positively, what pulls forward is the wealth of desire and the accumulation of expressive and productive capacities that the process of globalization have determined in the consciousness of every individual and social group – and thus a certain hope.
—Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire
Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present “Brooklyn Bridge,” our third solo exhibition by Kyrgyzstan-based artists Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev. With a new 6-channel video installation and a series of photographs, Kasmalieva and Djumaliev bring their signature poetic documentary-style focus to the issue of illegal immigration into Brooklyn’s large Russian-speaking neighborhoods from Central Asia’s former Soviet republics .
Before traveling to New York in May 2009, the artists asked their friends in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek to introduce them to people who had emigrated from Kyrgyzstan to the USA, in order to interview them about their experiences. The rise in illegal migration from Kyrgyzstan to the West meant nearly every family they spoke with knew someone. Kasmalieva and Djumaliev set out to explore this phenomenon in their new work, with an eye toward themes they’ve explored before, such as the risks and opportunities of globalization. What kind of mobility do these people have? Did they find liberation or a new jail?
Their video installation is framed by two large projections of an experimental film they shot of the Brooklyn Bridge from a parallel train crossing the East River. Playing the footage 20 times slower than real time, the noise of the crowded train—the rattling of the car and the shouted conversations, many of personal stories or shared emotions and thoughts—sounds instead like an eerie wind.
The installation also includes four interviews, two with women and two with men from Central Asian republics who immigrated to the USA and are either still in NYC or have returned home already. All of them speak Russian because of their Soviet background (the videos have English subtitles). The four personal stories (in parts expressive and emotional, in parts laconic and lyrical) are very typical for illegal immigrants the world over. None of them were able to use their professional skills and knowledge in the US, despite most of them receiving good educations at home and having been a medical doctor, a musician, a teacher, etc. For the ones still in New York, of course, they cannot return home to see their family until they achieve a legal status, a process that now can take 7-12 years. Working usually in construction or hospitality services, they constantly transfer money home in order to provide an education for their children and feed their family, even as their isolation from their family and country for such a long time slightly transforms their relationship with their past.
The photos presented are of Brighton Beach, the center of all Russian-speaking Diaspora. Here the artists found that most immigrants never really integrate into their new society. Being always in the middle, or on the “bridge” between past and future, they live with constant doubt about whether they should return home or not. The ones who do return home are often affected by a new shock, due to a shattering of their long-held illusions of what they would find there.
Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev live and work in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, where they also organize and curate the highly acclaimed international biennial “Bishkek Contemporary Art Exhibition.” In addition to a solo exhibition at the Art Institute in Chicago in 2007, they have exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Singapore Biennale, the Shanghai Zendai Museum of Modern Art, the Montreal Biennial, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, and many other international museums and biennials. Their work has been reviewed in Artforum, Flash Art, Frieze, Art in America, and many other arts publications. Recently, they were recipients of the Prince Claus Award and were short listed for the Artes Mundi Prize.