Nature’s affliction

July 04, 2021

Artist Saule Suleimenova highlights effects of plastic pollution in the Kazakh steppe

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“Inspiration does exist, but it must find you


– Pablo Picasso

Plastic is often identified as a material with a high risk of causing environmental pollution. Globally, the worrying trends of plastic use are having a huge negative impact on ecosystems (both on land and underwater), causing devastation for wild life and the health of the general public. There is a dire need to improve the way we manage our plastic waste as a lot of it ends up in the environment. But for some creative souls used plastic is an effective tool and an inspiration for their creative process.

The show under review is titled: Plastic, the Last Hero of the Great Steppe - The Art of Saule Suleimenova. Hosted by Andakulova Gallery, Dubai, it highlights the detrimental environmental effects of discarded plastic. Hailing from Kazakhstan, Saule Suleimenova is a visual artist who explores contemporary mediums for self-expression. This includes recycled plastic, cellophane and polycarbonate. Her latest artistic endeavour has turned out to be the creative campaign with strong public involvement and social impact on the people of Kazakhstan. She engaged the local community by asking that they bring her plastic bags for her pictures. She also took part in educational and social events to raise awareness regarding the way plastic pollutes by staying on the ground.

As a medium of expression, plastic beautifully captures Saule’s life experiences. She says: “I accept the aesthetics of waste as a part of human existence. Therefore, I’m ready to build people and landscapes as structures within it… I want my images to be recognisable, even though I work with technically coloured plastic”.

Saule is of the view that plastic pollutes as it stays on the ground for decades. As a result, thousands of tonnes of not-decomposed trash lie on the Kazakh steppe; spoiling its natural beauty. This warns people that the idyllic Kazakh pastoral scenes are now filled with waste, and it is time to clean up. The art deals directly with public in site-specific environments.

Her picture titled The First Day, View From My Window is about the use of plastic bags by humans. Two buildings are made side by side with three closed windows. Two trees in the centre of the picture reveal green as the colour of life and hope. But underneath, a dark blackish brown colour mocks human existence. It portrays the clogging of fresh air and pollution of the entire planet through the extensive use of plastics. Her handling of colours and the scenic beauty with polythene is immaculate.

One Steppe Forward (2019) reveals Suleimenova’s experience of Kazakh Koktemi, which was a series of peaceful protests by Kazakh civil society, in 2019. During the troubled times thousands of Kazakhstanis protested against a fraudulent presidential election and the unlawful renaming of their capital city. The work documents the dynamics of a typical Kazakh protest: the faces, features, gestures and the colours worn by the people. The facial features and human anatomy are marvelously captured in a plastic collage.

In an email interview the artist said: “The title was created by the curator of the exhibition, Nigora Akhmedova. I guess, she talks in the title about two main things - first, plastic is only a material that stays in the ground of the steppe after any other bio materials dissolve in earth as flora and fauna. And second, plastic is my main artistic material (I prefer not to use paints or canvases). I use only already used plastic bags, gluing pieces of them on plastic surfaces as polycarbonate or polyethylene.”

“I keep talking about the steppe as a geopolitical phenomenon showing three looks of the steppe. Again, Again, Again - is about the short time in spring when the steppe is green. It comes back periodically. Forever is about scorched-by-the-sun surface of the steppe. These words are also about the repeating, mostly boring, flat and endless landscape of the steppe. But at the same time there is a huge power of equality of each blade of grass. It reminds me of the power of civil society at a time when people rise up, ready to stand together for their basic rights. One Steppe is also about the energy and power of the civil society.”

The writer is an artist and educationist based in Lahore

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