Kazakh artist and winner of several international art awards Bolat Mekebayev, who now lives and works in Germany, bemused spectators with his honest and vivid paintings during an art festival at Kazakhstan National University of Arts in Astana in October, winning the award in the category “Kazakh Art Abroad.”
The artist presented seven canvases telling stories from Kazakh and German history that also raise questions regarding some substantial social issues in a unique symbolic manner of painting that is associated with Mekebayev.
One of the canvases, “The Mystery of the Ancient Rune,” depicts a dragon and a cross as a symbol of religious conviction and hierograms, which are ancient German runes, referring to the well-known Song of the Nibelungs that describes the Viking period of German history. Another canvas, “In anticipation,” shows the mother of the artist standing with a puppy – a symbol of his childhood.
Mekebayev was born in the Kokshetau region in northern Kazakhstan but migrated to Germany 18 years ago. Right now, he is a member of the Commonwealth of Artists in Germany and has his own art studio in Berlin.
According to Mekebayev, he still remembers the harsh times after Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991. The family did not have even enough money to live, let alone support his art career. The decision to migrate to Germany was made to escape the “wild 1990s” as people used to call this period of time.
“I used to bear arms during Communist times in Germany, but I had never thought I would ever come back to the country. My wife Lena is a Russian of German origins who was born in Borovoe. She suggested that I move to Germany because we believed that I had a chance at becoming a sucessful artist there,” explained Mekebayev.
The artist also talked about difficulties he and his wife faced during their first years after migrating. Their first destination was the city of Osterwieck in East Germany. The artist could not speak German, he used to work during the day and create his paintings at night.
“It was hard for me to live far away from my homeland. I remember my first art studio which was a tiny room in the cellar, the tiring room was right above. In 1997, the city church suggested to me that I organise an art exhibition. I gladly accepted. More invitations to present my paintings appeared soon after that,” the artist said.
Mekebyev’s paintings are in great demand among German poiticians and businessmen who are ready to pay up to 10,000 Euro for each canvas. Apart from art, he also established his own silk shawl business that uses unique ornaments designed by the artist.
“I do not miss my homeland too badly anymore, like I did in the past. I live a good life together with my wife and two children. But I want to come back to Kazakhstan when I get old – I want to be buried here,” the artist said.
In talking about Kazakh artists, Mekebayev noted their high level of professionalism. However, the reason why so many talented local artists remain unknown is their inability to escape the confines of reality. He also suggested increasing cooperation between European and Kazakh artists in order to exchange experience.
The artist is already awaiting his next exhibition in Berlin. He also plans to present his latest 20 canvases to audiences in several countries, including Britain, France, Israel and Russia. The main topic of the coming exhibit will be the historical motives of China, Egypt, Germany, Kazakhstan and the United States.
According to Mekebayev, he uses his art to promote the culture of Kazakhstan among the European public. He has already organised 20 personal exhibitions in several German cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Hannover, Munich and Osterwieck. His art was also shown in galleries in Poland and Estonia.
The festival of arts organised in Astana gathered more than 90 artists from Europe, China and Mongolia. The festival was divided into three competitions: poetry, art and storytelling (zhirshi).