Bakhyt Bubikanova, a Kazakh artist whose work is currently featured in the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, has died at 38. According to Esentai Gallery, Bubikanova had been battling cancer.
“Her work was characterised by great energy and humour,” the Almaty-based Aspan Gallery, which also represents her, wrote on Instagram. “We were honoured to work with Bakhyt for many years.”
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Born in 1985 in Aktobe, Kazakhstan, Bubikanova was considered to be a leading figure in the art scene of her home country. She studied under Moldakul Narymbetov, the leader of the avant-garde collective Kyzyl Tractor.
In her art, which spanned painting, sculpture, installation, photography, and more, Bubikanova considered Kazakhstan as a nation that was becoming increasingly connected to the rest of the world through industry. In an attempt to process the country’s future, she often looked back to its past.
In the 2012–13 collage Peri, she offered images of her crouched nude form. In place of her face, she superimposed a giant eagle’s head. The work’s title refers to deities from Persian mythology that were mischievous and often female. Because of their actions, they could not enter paradise until they atoned.
At the current Gwangju Biennale, Bubikanova’s contribution consists of works that recall traditional miniatures that at one point proliferated throughout Central Asia. These works are being presented in a cabaret-like environment meant to recall the cafés seen in Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, allowing East and West to press up against one another.
Bubikanova’s art also appeared in the 2014 International Biennale for Young Art in Moscow, a 2017 survey of Kazakh art at Yarat in Baku, and a 2021 solo show at Aspan Gallery titled “Centuries Bow to the Talent… Or How not to Become Hitler.”
Esentai Gallery, the space run by Art Future, praised Bubikanova for “an incredibly fresh twist in art with a deep meaning, along with humor, irony and artistic gesture for everything that is happening.”