Burn Zhalmauyz Kempir
The project was displayed during DAVRA collective’s Summer Chilla public program at documenta 15 in Fridericianum Museum, Kassel as part of Saodat Ismailova’s participation as lumbung artist, and Winter Chilla mirroring program in Tashkent. Zhalmauyz Kempіr — evil demonic creature in Kazakh mythology, witch, often with seven heads. This project has two variations: one is an interactive weaving piece depicting seven witches, another is painting. Visitors could engage with the weaving and painting, allowing them to hear women's voices narrating stories, while simultaneously reading these narratives projected on the wall. I collected stories of kelins (young brides) from Central Asia who were not accepted into the new family or ‘returned back’ because they were of a different nationality, older than their husbands, wanted to work, dressed differently, and so on. There is an expression 'sweep under the carpet' when we want to hide something embarrassing or wrong. Often, kelins (young brides) hide the real stories that take place behind the doors of their homes like exploitation, domestic violence, and bad attitudes towards them. Showing the carpet inside out to people, I wanted to show the whole ugly picture that we used to hide.

Perhaps the Kazakh witches Zhalmauyz kempir, Albasty, Zheztyrnak and Mystan kempir were in fact ordinary women, who stumbled up against the prohibitions of a patriarchal society, and were subsequently demonised, slut shamed and punished by society. Could it be that the sinister image of Zhalmauyz in Kazakh culture arose out of witch imagery? The ethnographer Miropiev describes the story of Zhalmauyz, who attacks a wealthy bai or landowner and is killed. The word ‘kempir’ ("old woman" in Kazakh) in the names Zhalmauyz kempir or Mystan kempir hints at their links with European witches. Silvia Federici in her research gives us a portrait of the witch: a poor old woman living alone, dependent on gifts from neighbours, bitterly resentful at her rejection by society, often threatening and cursing those who refuse her help. When financial exchange became dominant in societies, the contribution of older women was devalued - no longer of child-bearing age, overlooked as providers of sexual services, they turned out not to be in demand as a component of wealth accumulation.

Burn Zhalmauyz Kempir series, 2022
Gouche on paper