Watercolour on paper

Courtesy of the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp

Izmail E fmov’s practice developed between the socialist realism art education of his academic training and, since the last years of the Soviet Union, what curator Anders Kreuger calls his “critical ethno-futurist” practice, featured in this exhibition. These works fnd diverse sources of inspiration, from archeological artefacts in prehistoric North Russia to Soviet-era printmaking and computer games, which unite to compose barely discernible fgures, evoking both a possible mythical ancestry and a futurist horizon. The ancient spectre here would have been largely invented, a phenomenon that was widespread in the national and Indigenous communities emerging from the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In its early Leninist years, the USSR practised one of the frst (and centrally directed) processes of cultural decolonisation by removing earlier traces of Russian Tsarist dominance and crafting an archipelago of speci fc, yet equal and modern ethnic identities, with their newly written languages, national literatures, codi fed folklore, and artistic forms and symbols. These languages would have primarily been in the neutral Latin alphabet amidst the dominant Cyrillic of the previous Empire. This process was largely abandoned in its infancy, replaced by Stalinist Soviet nationalism and all its future iterations.

In spite of this, a cultural space remained and developed for most of the Indigenous communities in the vast Eurasian space and the fall of communism found them in search of a new story and perhaps,a legend. E fmov is the o fcial Master of Heraldry in his native Republic of Mari El, home to the Volga Finnic Hill Mari and Meadow Mari peoples, where he authored its national symbols, visibly contributing to the ongoing process of inventing his nation, which is perhaps one of the supreme forms of artistic work.

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