Saturday, 21 February 2009

Slavs & Tatars

I found out about this in the usual roundabout way - from the comments section of Racialicious through art and culture magazine Bidoun's latest issue to the concept art collective Slavs & Tatars. A promising name indeed! However, the Bidoun article kept my expectations low, since the writer chose to recap the usual Occidental stereotypes before grappling the real thing:

Slavs, the linguistic and ethnic group from whence a third of Europeans derive — but with which, somehow, they rarely identify — seems a reminder that Europe was once more Eastern than the average European knows or cares to remember. The land of the Slavs was rough and distant, somewhere near Ukraine or, say, Belarus. There's a reason so many Eastern Europeans call themselves Central Europeans.

Which brings us to the Tatars. For most of us, the term evokes images of faraway lands, thick curly mustaches, maraudings, spearings, beheadings, treacherous Great Games — or, alternately, mayonnaise sauce for fish. Tatars ride horses and wear funny felt hats. In spite of them being Turkic peoples from greater Eurasia, they might as well be Philistines.

Okay - this establishes blatantly who "we" are supposed to be. I've heard about "Tartar" steak before, but the fish sauce was a new one - could it be that I'm not one of "us" after all? It's really difficult to explain to the fish sauce people what it means to grow up with small reminders like this. Luckily, Slavs & Tatars know. But perhaps you have to be "in the know" to appreciate their art - you have to be somebody who loves and cherishes the diversity of Eurasia and who knows that one person's history is another one's pretty lie and a third one's bloody truth.
Thus, no wonder that Chirayliq finds some of its favourite people in the Pantheon of Broken Men and Women: Tatar Socialist revolutionary Sultan Galiyev, Russian-Korean rock star Viktor Tsoi, and Avvakum the protopope... Dedicated to the defeated in history.
Another project, A Thirteenth Month Against Time, is a kind of calendar or diary with useful (or wonderfully useless) articles like "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun" and catchphrases such as "When in Rome, do as the Romanians". It reveals that Slavs & Tatars are fans of the Kurdish people in particular, in spite of approving a Pan-Turkish people (or because?...).
And Payam Sharifi writes, among other things, about the importance of beautiful eyebrows among Iranians.
Since its foundation in 2000, the group (and solo members) have been exhibiting all over the world, and it has received several awards (the latest was the Grand Prix of the Brno Biennial 2008). Still, the geographic focus has very much been Europe and the US. Maybe that will change in the future?


Anonymous said...

a pleasure to come across yr blog and in particular the comment re: the otherwise disappointing piece about us in Bidoun. send me yr email to be in touch about other matters.

ainur said...

Hi Payam,

you can reach me on ainur dot elmgren at gmail dot com. Thanks for stopping by!