As an answer to the recent tragic events in Osh, we have asked one of the people we met there and who became a close friend to report on the situation and collect the stories of the diverse community that was involved in the project. You can find The Broken Kazan here
Before arriving in Osh, the location of our residency, we made three stops in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The first one was in Almaty, then we went for a couple of days to Taraz , and finally, we came to Bishkek. In the process of visiting friends and family, we started collecting stories about food. We were interested in various practices of cooking, eating, and socializing over food.
After arriving in Almaty, Kazakhstan, we went to the house of Saule and Kuanysh.
Saule shows us an old Soviet cookbook that was her grandmother’s. The first page with a quote from Stalin has been ripped off.
Saule told us about her days of being an art student.
Saule Suleimenova is a painter living in Almaty with her husband Kuanysh Bazargaliev, also a painter, and two daughters.
Aiman has a large vegetable garden in the back of her house, she also keeps a dozen chickens and two sheeps. She lives in the city of Taraz, a ten minute walk from the center bazaar. She is an urban farmer.
For the occasion of our visit, she had bought a sheep. Early in the morning, the butcher came to Aiman’s house to slaughter the sheep. He breaks down the carcass in a different way than we do in the United States.
As we watched him doing his work he apologized for not wearing a cleaner pair of pants.
Aiman, Zhanara and Zarina cleaned the intestines.
He hung the lungs, the heart and the liver in the apple tree.
Later that day Aiman lit a fire in the outdoor stove and cooked the lamb and a horse sausage in the kazan.
The dinner brought the families of Aiman and her two sisters together.
We ate first a stew of the organs and a tomato salad with purslane from the garden then sampled some spicy sausage Jerome made with the caulfat and finally the main dish of the lamb and the horse sausage, called beshbarmak.
Aiman’s brother-in-law, a doctor, distributed the pieces of lamb according to the guests so each got a specific bone.
Often a guest would get up and offer a toast, talking at length about the significance of the event and everyone would finish their glass of vodka
At all time the table was covered with plates of fruits, sweets, breads and salads.
Aiman Omarbekova is Zhanara’s mother. She lives with her husband in Taraz, a medium size town in the south of Kazakhstan.
In Bishkek, the larger city in Kyrgyzstan, Nina brought us to the studio of Valeriy Ruppel a local painter. Although Valeriy is a painter and a sculptor he is considered one of the most conceptual artist in Central Asia.
As the conversation turns to food he opens a suitcase full of casts of sheep innards, he explains to us that they represent the different organs that go into Kuyrdak, the dish we ate first at Aiman’s lamb dinner.
Nina Bagdasarova is a teacher, scholar and Jazz singer. She was born and lives in Bishkek where she works for an NGO.
The distribution of the pieces of the sacrificed animal is always an important part of the ritual and is often the reflection of some kind of order. Within a few days in central Asia we came across three very different examples of this idea.
Saule tells us about her friend Peter and a lamb he had to give away as an offering.
Aiman, who has not hosted her daughter and son-in-law in her own house since they were married in California, has organized a great get together and dinner for the occasion.
We noticed that the butcher broke down the carcass in a different way than we do. Later we will learn why.
The platter of beshbarmak with the breast bone, reserved for the son-in-law.
Almaz explains the art of who gets what at the lamb feast and the differences between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.
Kuyrdak cooking in the kazan at Aiman’s house. It was prepared with the organs of the lamb and served before the meat. It is part of the next story.
While visiting Valeryi, he opens a suitcase, filled with cast representing the organs of the lamb used for the preparation of the Kuyrdak. They are part of a show he did where they were organized in different patterns or what he calls ornaments. Ornamental painting is a traditional aspect of Kyrgyz visual arts.
The catalog for the exhibit.
Tamara Kadyrbayeva, our host in Osh, is a trained art historian (iskusstvoved, in Russian). She married her husband, who is a prominent Osh artist, during her university studies in Leningrad. Tamara-eje considers herself to represent the artists from the entire southern region. The job of art historians is to provide art critique for artists. They were generally part of the Unions of Artists. Tamara-eje also works at the local university.
At her home, we drank tea sweetened with cherry and apricot jams (varen’e).
Tamara is a native of Osh. She shared a few precious childhood memories of her visit to the bazaar with her grandparents.
In the bazaar,
We will also eat mantis, a large dumpling filled with meat and onions.
Yesterday, we finally arrived in Osh. Our host, Tamara, met us at the airport and brought us to the apartment we will be staying in during the residency. Her son brought some freshly baked bread from the nearby bazaar. As she poured us tea in a special Central Asian way by passing us the pialas with a slight bow, we talked about our ideas and plans for the next three weeks. Tamara reminisced about her trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. The conversation slowly moved to how Jerome and Daniel became artists. Tamara was interested in their paths. As the guys told about their journeys, we realized the stark difference between what constitutes the archetypal artist in the West and in Kyrgyzstan.
In the West, according to Jerome, the artist is a darker and tormented figure. He compared the artist to the shaman. They are more conscious of the human nature and its pitfalls, and they can cure other people. The artist in Western culture is a suffering genius. Jerome invoked the belief of ancient Greeks in the four humors. A healthy person was the balance between these four elements. A disbalance, on the other hand, created depression and creativity. Black byle is the particular disbalance, an excess of which created depression and also creative energy. Altogether, the idea of genius and creativity was connected to depression and mental disease. As an example, Jerome referred to the citizen Kane, this guy is bigger than life, a genius but also wounded. The wounded people are the most agitated, the nutcases are the loudest.
Tamara’s idea of the artist, on the other hand, is a very positive figure (she used the Russian word “sozidatel’nyi”). It’s a person that makes the life more interesting, more palatable. She kept saying that artists are happy people. They take the reality and sift it through their heart. They have a happy task of making life more beautiful and make other people reflect on their reality. She reasoned this specificity by the prominent presence of crafty arts among the Central Asian people. Art was about craft, the craftswomen were making beautiful rugs with beautiful ornaments just so that their daily life was prettier.
Moreover, Tamara distinguished between the nomadic and the sedentary type of artists. The sedentary artist comes from the valley culture and is constantly fastidious. Because of their sedentary lifestyle, they could not sit still and constantly involved in improving their own environment. She pointed to the bright red embroidered carpet behind her and said that only the sedentary people (Uzbeks or Tajiks) could come up with such contrasted colors. The nomads (Kyrgyz and Kazakhs) were, on the other hand, much mellower because they were travelers. Their color scheme is also much more different from the sedentary people. It’s a lot more in terms of half-tones. Also, Tamara implied that they were more lazy by putting her palms together and reclining her head on it.
The bazaar was within a half hours walking distance from where we lived, we decided to learn how to get there by foot. Tamara said that we could get to the bazaar either through a main thoroughfare, Masaliev street, or cut across the Uzbek neighborhood called a mahalla. She was a little nervous about getting us lost in the maze of walls that make up the Mahalla neighborhood, but after taking a general consensus of the group she decided to walk us through.
This neighborhood was a complete break from Russian colonial and Soviet architecture found in other parts of the city. Our initial observation of this place was that it had been built in an organic way. Many of the streets were barely wide enough to accommodate automobiles. It seemed tightly knit with walls and ornate doorways, narrow and interlocking streets, fruit trees in front of walls. We spotted pomegranate, quince, apple, djida (a little fruit that resembles a small apple), fig, mulberry, grapes in vines shading buildings and rosehips. Children and women milled about the streets. Most of the women had their heads covered. The children played on the street and stared at us quietly.
As we walked through the Mahalla we were curious about what was behind the walled compounds. Each of these buildings had distinctly large doors with ornate woodwork above and along the roof line. Some of the doors were ajar and you could catch glimpses of the inner life of the houses. Each had a courtyard with buildings that faced inward. Windows with wood-paned glass reflected through the space. Tamara was able to find a woman that let us inside one of these buildings. She was the older daughter-in-law in a household of three families.
Eventually we found our way out of the labyrinth and ended up on the path to the bazaar. The path followed the river with shade trees and an old chaikhana (Tea House).
We crossed the river over an old bridge and entered an amusement park with a number of rides and attractions. We arrived at the bazaar through a small tunnel underneath a bridge. The tunnel was dark with vendors selling shoes and clothes crammed on both sides. From here we entered the noisy bazaar.