SSRC Fellow Zhanara Nauruzbayeva

Refurbishing Soviet Status: Visual Artists and Marketization in Kazakhstan

Current Position: Post-Doctoral Fellow, Harriman Institute, Columbia University

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In the early 1990s, the Kazakhstani state drastically reduced its previous, Soviet-era sponsorship of art. Consequently, visual artists devised new strategies for displaying and selling their work. The range of their approaches included integrating into the international art market, developing a Western-style art market “at home,” as well as reestablishing connections to bureaucrats and contributing to new state ideology. Based on fifteen months of anthropological research in Almaty and Astana in 2006-2007, this dissertation investigates how these once highly-privileged state ideologues adapted to uncertainties of market and cultivated private consumers. Whereas scholars studied such shifts from state-sponsored art production to market by focusing on the development of artistic autonomy, my dissertation argues that Kazakhstani artists commercialized their art by re-appropriating their Soviet-era status as ideological producers. Specifically, artists privatized their art practice by drawing on the Soviet symbolism of art as a public good; as a state-related project, and as a modernizing and internationalizing vehicle. The emerging art market has thus been fundamentally inflected by discourses of state-sanctioned art. This research offers one way to witness how the market and the state shape each other in Kazakhstan, and consequently enables a deeper understanding of the oft-cited authoritarianism of Central Asian societies.

Current Interests and projects:

Teaching two courses in 2011/2012: “Capitalism and Authoritarianism,” and “Contemporary Central Asia.”


“Portraiture and Proximity: Official Artists and the State-ization of the Market in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan,” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 76(3): 375-397, September 2011

Article in progress  “Social Relevance of Art in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan” (in preparation for Third Text)


Conference paper: “Hierarchies of Quality: Education, Artistic Vision, and Distinction in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan,” Anthropological Association 109th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, November 17-21, 2010. Session Co-Organizer for “Aspiration and Ambivalence”

Conference paper: “Visual Artists and State Officials in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan"paper presentation at the Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies National Convention, Los Angeles, November 18-21, 2009. Session Organizer for “From the Intelligentsia to Middle Class: Elites after Socialism”

Plein-air painting session in Astana, July 2007.
Photo: Zhanara Nauruzbayeva