the solo show

Had my solo photography photo show here last night at the TENGRI-UMAI gallery, which is apparently the biggest and most prestigious gallery here in Kazakhstan.  The show was a completely unexpected off shoot of our travel here to Almaty, Kazakhstan and it was truly and honor to present some of my latest photography work despite the difficulty of hauling 40×30 inch prints from the United States (in a bazooka).

I really liked how the show came together.  The work really stood on it’s own and I think each photograph told a story.  After much deliberation I settled on the name AMERICAN BEAUTY for the show as a whole.  I think the work depicts and dark but beautiful image of America as a culture of isolation and lost identity.  I was told that it was interesting to see this point of view in Central Asia.  A view quite different from the perspective they are sold here abroad.

At the end of the show I was approached by the editor of a Kazakh art photography magazine for an interview.  I think she was taken by the work and she asked if she can publish some of it in her magazine.  It is really a high-end, well printed magazine.  Yes, please!


So we arrived in Almaty around 5 am in the morning and we are quickly met with this embassy liaison who is there waiting for us with a sign with my name on it. There is another name and I quickly learn there is another American on the flight besides myself and Davon. We are shown what to do and we are sent to the front of the line with the liaison. We quickly get our stamps and go and wait for our luggage. We meet the other American. He’s an embassy worker with a couple of cats in tow. Davon and I are a little surprised that this guy has cats with him. There’s a police officer looking at them and he’s doing all the proper paper work but I’m sure he’s just as surprised as I am about seeing some American guy with his cats in tow. We later find out he’s on his way to Bishkek to live and for some reason he can’t live there without these two cats. Davon says that there’s a lot of love in that. I think he meant it was a bit extreme for someone to take a couple of cats clear out to Central Asia.

We are led to a large White Chevy Suburban and we throw our luggage in the back. We are driven to the hotel. It’s pretty decent Soviet Style hotel with some modern amenities thrown in. It has a television with cable so I can watch old Soviet movies and then watch CNN.

I can hear James and Anna’s voice in the hallway soon as we arrive into our rooms. I can hear the twangy American voices through the door! I open the door and let them know we’re here. We all chat and it seems as if James and Anna are having a great time already. Davon notes that it seems like they’ve already been here for a while. It looks like it’s taken them a little longer. They missed their connector in Heathrow Airport (I hate that airport) after booking a flight that seems to be to far away from the connection to Almaty. Anna pulled some persuasive action and they got a free hotel in London and flight the next day. They told us they’ve been walking around Almaty for the last day. They got to meet Vladimir and Leila. They walked to the embassy saw a bit of Almaty and even found themselves in an Irish Pub drinking Guinness and having Shepherd’s Pie.

We had breakfast downstairs and then all went for a walk near our hotel. We went to the Arbat and looked around a bit. We talked a little about our work. Afterwards we walked back to our apartment. My stomach wasn’t feeling so well. This always happens when I eat that fucking airplane food. I always tell myself I will try not to eat it. My “refined Chez Panisse stomach” isn’t used to all of these preservatives in the food. It wants organic tomatoes and grass fed meat. Fortunately the food in Kazakhstan is great! I make some phone calls to friends. I’m surprised after one year away from Almaty many of my friends cell phone numbers are no longer working. I guess you can’t take your phone number with you to the next available service. I reach Saule and have a brief chat with her (It’s so nice to hear her voice!) and we arrange to meet on the following day. They want to arrange to pick me up right at that moment but I let them know I have a lot of work to do.

Around 1:30 pm we meet Leila the embassy official, and Vladimir along with a few other embassy people. We have a brief meeting with them and we discuss a bit about what we’ll do. We talk a bit about losing the wall for a mural. Vladimir shows us the large canvases that we’re painting. They’re huge! We’re happy about them. We also get a chance to meet some of the local graffiti writers. They’re a bit shy but that’s normal.

We go to dinner with Bota and we meet Malik. We have dinner at Destarkhan. It’s a pretty decent place but it costs around 25 dollars. I think it’s pretty expensive but it was good food and Davon, James and Anna liked it.

We go home and we find out on CNN that Washington Mutual went under. Things aren’t looking good in the financial world.

The flight from San Francisco to Almaty was quite long but it was fine since it was a KLM flight direct to Amsterdam. I landed in Amsterdam and waited to meet Davon.

We both agreed to meet in the airport terminal where we’d take off from. I watched the news and after a couple of hours I saw Davon come from the opposite side of the terminal with 3 large cylinders on his back strung over like a bazooka. We greeted each other with hug and went to another part of the terminal that had a great bar shaped like a soccer ball. Inside we sat down to have some drinks and a chat about his trip thus far and also about our future project with the Tengri Umai gallery.

The bazooka that carried Davon's photo prints from LA to KAZ

The bazooka carrying Davon's photos.

On the flight to Almaty our last leg of the trip (a 6 hour flight) Davon mostly slept (dude I watched Iron Man! – DR) I watched the television. I got to see the new Indiana Jones flick. It was pretty bad. I’d says there wasn’t anything new added to the film. I listened to this great radio show about the history of Brazilian jazz music. It’s was on one of these in flight radio shows. It was nice to hear some good Brazilian music it really soothed my soul.

I get really anxious on the flight nowadays. I don’t know where it’s coming from I think I’m going through some sort of mental change of some sort. Before I used to love to fly now I just keep thinking of how long it will take to get back to Zhanara and that kitchen of ours in Oakland with our new table and a pot of dark coffee and some Acme Levan.

Sketches of Almaty II

Sketches of Almaty

My return to Almaty

Exactly one year later after my fifteen-month-stay in Kazakhstan (see my diaries), I am about to embark upon another trip there. This time, Vladimir Filatov of the Tengri-Umai gallery proposed a collaborative project involving graffiti. His vision has been to do something outside gallery, in public space.

The proposed mural space.

My origins are in the art of spray paint. I haven’t painted much with this media in the last 10 years but I worked almost every day for over 15 years prior to that point with the art of the spray can. The Tengri Umai project is a collaborative effort with an old friend and artist colleague James Reitano. I have worked with Mr. Reitano doing various murals, gallery projects, and publishing projects since we were teenagers. I anticipate this to be a very special project just for the experience of working with him.

When I contacted James on the grounds of this project, James at once suggested to invite along his colleague, video-maker Davon Ramos. As soon I had a conversation with Mr. Ramos on the telephone, I quickly felt we would get along well. We share a common angle looking at the world and cultures as something to respect and learn from as humble observers and interactive artists. This collaborative project will help to gain a more nuanced understanding of America, especially places like Oakland or Los Angeles, for people in Kazakhstan and, vice versa, aid Americans to learn about Kazakhstan.

The weather here in Oakland is around 75F degrees (23C) after a few days of fog and a little rain this week. I am busy packing and getting ready for the trip. I leave on the 23rd and will meet Davon in Amsterdam. We will meet James already in Kazakhstan.

1. Eat as much food as possible. Horse sausage included.

2. Record shopping. Kazakh breaks!??! Yes, please!

3. mixtapemixtape!!! stickering. Promotional opportunities never cease.

4. Taste as much local beer and vodka as time allows. And there’s always time for alcohol.

5. Dispel the myths of the fat, imperial American. Just as Borat has obviously skewed the American idea of the Kazakh people, let us also realize that the general idea of an American is perverted by the oil hungry, American business men that visit their country. It’s our job to let them know that those people do not represent all of us. That there are other Americans that do not necessarily agree with the overall practices of our government and that we have much to learn. We are the new Ambassadors. And we embrace that.