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the project

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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Daniel’s Diary – SEPTEMBER 26th

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.
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.
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

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.

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.

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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!

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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.

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inshallah

TEAM KAZAKHSTAN (L-R Anna Slotky, James Reitano, Daniel Gallegos)

TEAM KAZAKHSTAN met for the first time last weekend in Oakland, CA. I had been in email contact with Daniel for sometime but this was the first time we had met in person and the first time Daniel and James had seen each other in over 10 years. It was a festive occasion.

As always, it was nice to put a name to a face and in between beers and PLOV (a traditional Kazakh dish of lamb and rice pilaf) lovingly prepared by Daniel’s wife Zhanara, we talked about what we were hoping to achieve on this trip both personally and professionally.

Sketches for the mural

Sketches for the mural

James and Daniel worked on sketches for the GRAFFITTI MURAL that they have been commissioned to paint by the TENGRI-UMAI GALLERY in Almaty, Kazakhstan and it was pretty awesome to see so many months of planning and concepting come to fruition. I have no doubt that they are going to blow the minds of the Kazakh art world.

Daniel and James discuss the mural.

Daniel and James discuss the mural.

It’s really amazing the amount of trust and collaboration we all have in each other despite the relative lack of personal experience we have with each other but it’s almost like we are already family. Even if the trip to Kazakhstan wasn’t happening, it was a joy to meet Daniel and Zhanara and I can already tell I have much to learn from them. And will.

We leave tomorrow. Me and Daniel are taking seperate planes to Amersterdam (he from San Francisco and I from Los Angeles) and from there we will travel together to Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. There we will reconvene with James and his girlfriend Anna who left yesterday. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to travel to a place I never thought I’d get to go and am expecially honored to have the chance to show some of my work in a Kazakh gallery and have a chance to meet and engage with other artists from this beautiful country so steeped in tradition.

Onward to Almaty! Assuming, of course, that Daniel and I make it out of Amsterdam.

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new photography work

These are some of the photos I’ll be showing in the KAZ. Prints will be ranging in size fro 20×16 to 40×30. Completely obnoxious, American size.

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the rise of YNTY MAQ

It took several days of deliberation before we settled on the name for this blog. Some of the front runners were:

Bridge of friendship…Dostyk kuperi
My name is…Menym atym
hand over heart

A couple of us liked “hand over heart” (too patriotic?) and “bridge of friendship” (sounds kind of weird?) but we unanimously decided that we wanted to use a Kazakh word with respect to the project and the country that is giving us this exciting opportunity to create art within it’s borders.

We finally settled on YNTY MAQ which means “collaboration, solidarity and unity” when translated from Kazakh to English. We thought it best describes what we are hoping to achieve on this trip and I just kind of like how the words sound. YNTY MAQ son!

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