I wake up in the morning a little late. I am checking the news again to follow what’s going on with the economy in the U.S.
Today is the day of the art festival. I have breakfast. I’m late so I eat fast. I let the woman in the Hotel Berkhana cafe that I will not be eating eggs today but I have an extra helping of all of the other foods. Again the homemade bread is awesome. I drink some instant coffee and start on my way to the Tengri Umai gallery. I always pass this Uzbek food stand on the way to the Arbat where the Tengri Umai is located. I walk past him everyday. sometimes he’s with other people but usually he’s there by himself. You can see watermelon and local Central Asian melons called Denya. They’re very sweet and when I see them they remind me of Zhanara. I am at this point missing Zhanara very much. The avenues of Almaty are lined with trees. The hotel Berkhana is only a couple of blocks away from the Arbat. I walk past a few government buildings and one of the old government buildings. To cross the street I have to go underground. Underground there are passageways that contain stores. The two passages I have to pass under are filled with stores and there is a security guard at the ends of the passages at night. So you never really feel like you’re in danger. Most of these are well lit. The types of stores you see are office supply stores, computer services, Xerox, book shops, second hand shops. I’ve seen a shooting gallery/western bar in one of these passageways. You sometimes can buy beer and they sort of resemble subways in New York but without the train. They’re quite lively with people brushing up against one another and the echoing voices of people create quite a racket. I think they sort of resemble bazaars. I have to pass between two of these passageways. the one closest to the Arbat is really fancy. It has a giant toy store with a bunch of grumpy store people. Davon got in trouble already with them for using his camera here. People still aren’t so comfortable with you taking photos of them. I usually pop out in the right side of the tunnel.
I walk to the gallery and I notice more graffiti on the street from a lot of the writers we’ve been working with. When I get to the Tengri Umai most of the graffiti writers are already working away. There has been a lot of progress made with these guys. Most are close to being finished and they’re getting their work ready for the Arbat. Vladimir has arranged with Slava to bolt feet onto the panels we’ve been painting so they can stand up on their own. James and I first walk to 4A coffee but it’s closed!! Sunday’s they’re closed how American is that???!! We find another coffee shop and we sit down and chat a little more about what we’ll do after we’re finished with our work in Almaty. We talk a little more about the past ten years. We talk more about our friends and a bit about our significant others. I tell James about how I met Zhanara and how it’s all culminated into this moment that we’re doing graffiti in Kazakhstan. We finish our coffee and take one to go for Anna. Davon goes to the Zylony bazaar this morning with the translators to check it out. I feel sorry that I can’t go. I really want to go to the little Dungan noodle shops there. They have the best noodles in town!! We move our paintings out onto the Arbat and there are already people there. There is a young woman with a look of recognition on her face. I can’t figure out who she is. I say hello and she’s like you don’t remember do you? I say well I’ve seen a lot of faces in the last few days so forgive me. Plus I say, I’ve been breathing a lot of spray paint these last few days. She says she’s the representative for the sponsor of the beer company. She’s made a request for me to wear some overalls with their brand of beer on it. I accept. It’s a good thing for me so I don’t get spray paint all over my clothes. I put them on and she’s happy to see that I’m wearing them. She offers me a beer and I say it’s much too early for a beer. Maybe later will be better. We help Slava as he puts the legs on the panels. this takes around 10 minutes. People are setting up the music and some of Davon’s music that he brought from LA are playing. It’s kind of surreal to hear American hip hop loud and on a PA system in the middle of Almaty! People are gathering and the music is getting louder. It’s kind of cool to see the other artists painting their works. At this point in time we’re all friends sharing paint and caps and all just hanging out. I keep following James’ lead but now it’s time for me to start focusing on finishing my work. James is focused and he’s working hard to finish. The problem is everyone keeps saying hello and there are many friends that I haven’t seen in over a year all stopping by to say hello. At some point a spray can spits paint out all over my face. I put the wrong cap on it. Leyla and Gabrielle from the embassy has stopped by to say hello. They look like they’re having a great time watching everything happen. We’re almost finished with our work and then suddenly we start to realize we’re running out of paint. We stop to pose with some of the locals as we’re finishing up. James is shocked we’re running out of paint. We go back to the gallery to find more and there isn’t much left. So we finish the work up and pose with some soldiers and friends. We have a moment to stand in front of the stage. Through the day there is music by local rap groups. There are some break dancers and hip hop dancers on the steps that have been made into a makeshift stage. We’re having an awesome time! James’ work is always better than mine!
Afterwards we put away our work. We’ve finished and the day is getting darker. We all head back to the gallery and we all hang out with the local graffiti writers. This time we’re all excited about the days. We’re all posing in front of cameras and just trying to communicate as best as we can. Rita the other owner of the Tengri Umai has just returned form an art festival in Bishkek. She’s anxious to interview us. We wait our turn to get interviewed with Saule as the interpreter and we talk about our context with graffiti. Most of this interview is online on their website.
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This morning we wake up and continue our work on the mural. The breakfast at the hotel Berkhana is awesome! I keep getting the fried eggs and the woman who runs the cafe keeps making awesome homemade bread!
James and Anna are at the gallery already doing work. James and I go to the coffee shop (4A Coffee) and buy some more of that delicious awesome strong stuff. We walk back to the the gallery. James and I continue doing the work. We’ve let off just a little because we have to finish the work in public. Tomorrow we’re going to have all the work in the Arbat. The Arbat is the city center or central commerce district in Almaty. There will be all sorts of people watching us with the other graffiti artists. The local graffiti writers are becoming more friendly. Many of them have gotten to work on their panels. You can see a wide range of styles. I’ve learned there are two different groups of writers who seem to have different styles. For the most part everyone is pretty nice to each other. A couple of graffiti writers are doing a panel with the Kazakh theme to it. They’re doing work in the computer style like the artist Loomit from Europe. The stuff looks great! They’ve got nice backgrounds and the colors are off the Kazakhstan flag. There are silk road cities and even images of Astana all in different directions of the painting. These guys have to be some of the strongest graffiti writers I’ve seen here. These guys are in their late 20’s I imagine. For the most part the graffiti writers are in their teens and early twenties here. Some of the graffiti writers ask how long we’ve been painting. I answer somewhere around 1984 is when I started painting graffiti. I think James answers around the same time give or take a few years.
With the painting, I try to keep following James’ lead. He’s got something on his mind about how he’d like to do it. From my experience it’s best to follow his lead. This guy can really paint! During this time we chat about many things. Mostly we try to catch up on all of the lost time we’ve had. I haven’t seen James’ in like 10 years! He doesn’t look any different. A little older but he’s the same Jimmy on the Schwinn cruiser in Santa Cruz that I remember. We fill in a lot of gaps about what has happened with our friends over the years. We also get to know a little about our personal lives. I wouldn’t trade this experience in for any other the opportunity to paint with James. It brings back memories of being kids in the sewers of Santa Cruz painting our names as big as we wanted and nobody around to fuck with us. A cheeseburger and some soda and a bag of spray paint under Emeline Bridge was pure bliss. Now we’re in the middle of Central Asia painting graffiti together. I would have never believed that this would happen if you told me this 10 years ago.
I see many people from the last time I lived here. Many have come by to say hello and to look at our work. It’s painful to think I don’t have much time to see everyone.
We call it quits and we try to put our work away Slava says he’ll take care of it because he has to put everything away in a certain order. We notice many of the graffiti writers have been painting all over the neighborhood. I’m a little worried the local authorities are going to be a little angry. James and Anna go back to the hotel. I think she’s a little under the weather.
I stay to discuss some stuff with Gaisha Madanov. She’s back from Bishkek and we’ve got lots of stuff to discuss. She’s a partner in our ongoing Artpologist project. So since I’ve last seen her we’ve been working on new ideas for a project together. Zhanara and I got to sit down and chat with Aminatou in Oakland about continuing the work and this is the moment I can discuss with Gaisha about the project. We go to this little cafe and eat. The food is ok. It’s good to see Gaisha and she tells me a bit about what she knows from our work. We’ve been sending messages for the last year between the collective.
I return to the hotel Berkhana. I knock on the door to see if Anna, James and Davon are around. Nobody around. I think they went back to Saule and Kyuanish’s apartment for more dinner and drinking. I fall asleep. I dream a lot when I travel.
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Everyday we learn a little bit more about why we are here in Kazakhstan. What is really exciting is that what was initially presented to us as a chance for Daniel and James to come paint graffiti has actually turned into a mini-festival with musical performances, workshops and live painting. On Sunday Daniel and James will present their work in a city square along with the work of local Kazakh writers and be supported by local DJ’s and MC’s. Very, very cool. Thanks Vladimir!
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Where's the beef?
The verdict? Not bad at all.
Two extremely talented Kazakh artists, Saule and Kyuanish, served us our first home cooked Kazakh meal and it was delish. Stuffed peppers, pickled herring, lots of Vodka and of course the horse meat. We were all delighted to have something other than airplane and restaurant food.
The horse meat was what we all had waiting for though and we gotta say it was kinda tasty. Sorta like a cross between pastrami and corned beef. Saltly like bacon. Would go well with scrambled eggs. Holler.
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I have a full nights sleep. I wake up around 7 am and start doing some writing on the computer. Around 9 am the door knocks Davon opens the door and it’s a film crew from one of the local television stations. I’m still in my boxers I tell them to wait for me to get dressed. The reporter is excited that I’m not ready and she say that it would be great to have me getting dressed on video. I think it seems a little ridiculous and I’m a little worried my mother-in-law here in Kazakhstan will see me on television in my boxers.
- Daniel shadowed by the Kazakh video crew.
I quickly get dressed and they interview me as I clean up the hotel a bit and we go downstairs to eat some breakfast and I get interviewed about what I’m doing here. They walk with us down to the Tengri Umai and we finish the interview. We all wait for Vladimir. He shows up around noon. We start painting the canvases soon after. Some of the graffiti writers show up and start working.
- Kazakh writers getting to work.
We’re painting a bit in black. We’re using some Italian spray paint that is decent enough. Along the way we make small talk with the local writers and also some of the locals. I’m a bit concerned something will hit us on the head from the large apartment above. I follow James’ lead on the piece. We’re doing an oil well and mountain theme. Our letters are black like crude oil. Around 2pm the embassy officials come. They quickly assess our work and seem a little disappointed. It seems as if they wanted us to work more directly with the locals. We try to explain that we’re just getting started but it’s too late. The officials go and chat with Vladimir and it seems like there’s some communication issues about what the project would be like. James and I keep painting. We paint for around 5 hours. During this time Davon is preparing for a show and workshop in the downstairs gallery. His photos look nice.
We finish painting around 6 but after a meeting we don’t get out of there until 7pm. James needs to get back to Anna after he had agreed that he’d meet her at a certain time so we quickly get back to the hotel. We shower and return to see the opening of Davon’s show and we hang out with all the graffiti writers. We’re having some good times. We pose with them. Davon gives a talk to the crowd. He presents his work and talks about how we represent an alternative culture in the United States.
We quickly leave with Kyuanish and Saule to go to dinner at their house. We buy beer at the local store and we eat stuffed peppers and beet salad and drink vodka. Everything is so delicious! Everyone is having a great time. They seem to all really get along. I give the gifts Zhanara had packed for them. They’re so happy. I brought some coffee from home for them too.
We go to the studio and see their new works. Kyuanish says he sold all of his works from the last show and he says now he hasn’t done any new work. He says all he does is drink and watch football on the television. There are a couple of new paintings by him -one I really like of houses.
Kyuanish in the studio.
Saule is working on a new series. She’s no longer working on her wax and acrylic media. She’s using vinyl printed photos stretched over frames and she paints pictures on them. The work looks super cool! She seems very happy about the new direction. We discuss her work and what it means to her. I say it’s really a great direction for her. During this time Zhanara talks with me on the telephone.
Saule and her work.
We go back to the hotel in a taxi. We go home put our stuff away and then I suggest we go check out the club on the corner. It looks terrible and so I tell them I know another place to go. SOHO Club. It takes about 5 minutes to walk there from here. There are too many ugly ex-patriots here. The music is good. We have one beer and then leave. James, Anna, Davon and I are all tired happy and a bit drunk.
We go back to the hotel turn the television on to see how bad things are back home with the further spiraling financial crisis. Things look bad there.
Posted in Life | Tagged art, graffitti, kazakhstan | 1 Comment »
Gotta give a shout to our beautiful translators, Karima and Malika, without whom our time here in Kazakhstan would be pointless. You guys are the best!
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