The geographical area known as Eurasia refers to land east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China. The internationally-renowned art collective Slavs and Tatars devotes its creative output to exploring this territory in mainly three ways; through exhibitions, publications and lecture-performances.
Exhibiting from New York’s MoMA to the Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, Slavs and Tatars has published ten books to date; most notably it has translated the legendary Azerbaijani satirical periodical Molla Nasreddin in two separate editions. Additionally, its most recent exhibition Made in Dschermany in Dresden engaged in the religions, beliefs and intercultural understanding of Eurasia.
The founders started the art collective “for equally personal as well as ideological reasons”. Referring to themselves as “a faction of polemics and intimacies”, the group’s intentions are “to better understand the world around us” by putting pressure on certain received ideas and notions. Slavs and Tatars tells It’s Nice That how these ideas can be anything from “the legacy of the age of Enlightenment” to “gender fluidity in the Muslim world”.
Slavs and Tatars works in cycles of research, each cycle lasting between three to four years. The cycle consists of roughly a couple of years of scholarly research followed by field research which consequently results in a body of work including artworks, publications and lectures. Each cycle is dedicated to a disparate subject matter such as the political writings known as Mirrors for Princes; a literary genre spanning from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Other cycles explore the notion of syncretism which involves the amalgamation (or attempted amalgamation) of different religions, cultures and schools of thought. Slavs and Tatars explains “while the books and lectures articulate a series of concerns, the question becomes that of the artwork. They cannot illustrate apropos and as such, the artworks must disarticulate the concerns we have studied, like pulling a thread to undo a sweater.”
The collective translated the periodical Molla Nasreddin published by IB Tauris in its second edition, originally published between 1906 and 1930. Designed by Boy Vereecken, the text is “a satirical Azeri periodical” and is arguably one of the most important 20th Century periodicals of the Muslim world, read from Morocco to India. “With an acerbic sense of humour and compelling, realist illustrations reminiscent of a Caucasian Honoré Daumier or František Kupka”, Molla Nasreddin controversially attacks the hypocrisy of the Muslim clergy as well as the colonial policies that the US and European nations enforced on the rest of the world. On top of this, the book attacks “the venal corruption of the local elite while arguing repeatedly and convincingly for Westernisation, educational reform, and equal rights for women.” Despite being written around 100 years ago, these issues are as poignant as ever. The book’s redesign has updated the text for the modern generation which brings the whole publication up-to-date.
The publication 79.89.09 transcribes Slavs and Tatars’ first lecture-performance which looks at the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and Poland’s Solidarnosc movement in the 1980s. The lecture-performance discusses how these movements are “bookends to the two major geopolitical narratives of the 20th and 21st Century respectively – communism and political Islam.” A similarly, well-designed publication, the spreads show how seemingly disparate issues from the monobrow to the Beach Boys, impacted greatly on the Middle East to make it what it is today.
After more than a decade of work and research across the world, the members of the collective are opening up Slavs and Tatars as “a platform for research, scholarship, amongst other things”. With support from the Goethe-Institut, a new residency and mentorship program will be available for young creatives and researchers from the Eurasia region and the collective is also launching its own Pickle Politics bar in Berlin. With the increasing support from leading international institutions, Slavs and Tatars will assuredly continue to raise awareness around the context of Eurasia through numerous creative platforms. Slavs and Tatars’ next exhibition Sauer Power opens at Kunstverein Hannover on 16th of November.”
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