Art of Almaty

In spite of harsh time or political views, the artistic traces of a glorious period are still remaining in Almaty.

Jama Nurkalieva and a small group of colleagues carried out a survey of an abandoned Soviet theater in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. They had absolutely no idea what was behind the plaster wall facing the road until someone found a narrow gap.

When illuminating the light around the dark behind the wall, the group caught a glimpse of a man’s head image. When the rest of the artwork is completely revealed, it is certain that this is a sgraffito of Soviet-era artist Eugeny Sidorkin, which has been lost and forgotten for decades.

Derived from Italy’s graffiare carvings, sgraffito is a technique that involves placing a layer of plaster or cement on another contrasting surface to reveal the patterns below.

Built in a standard design in 1964, this old cinema was one of the Soviet Union’s largest cinemas. It is surrounded by large glass doors, enabling the passers-by to fully view the sgraffito.

Now the old cinema is being transformed into Tselinny Contemporary Cultural Center. The director of the center Nurkalieva said the discovery of a work by Sidorkin who had been honored as the People’s Artist of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic before his death in 1982 was particularly interesting. . The sgraffito found here is being restored by experts, including architect Asif Khan and son of artist Sidorkin.

Sgraffito is not the only Soviet art discovered in Almaty last September. Dennis Keen, founder of Monumental Almaty, discovered a mosaic of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in 1984 at the Kazakhstan Academy of Sciences. The work which is believed to be by Vladimir Tverdokhlebov and a group of artists, is always covered by a curtain. Therefore, visitors must register for a private tour.

According to researcher Yevgen Nikiforov, it is estimated that up to 4% of mosaics in Ukraine have been demolished or banned. In Almaty alone, Mr. Keen estimates that about a third of the city’s Soviet artworks have disappeared. Almaty has retained so many mosaic paintings because of the fact that Kazakhstan’s capital moved from Almaty to Astana in 1997 under President Nurultan Nazarbayev.