US Mission to Kazakhstan Commemorates International Day Against Nuclear Tests

ASTANA Astana Arbat, in partnership with the United States Mission to Kazakhstan, hosted special events on Aug. 29 to mark the International Day Against Nuclear Tests and the closure of the Semipalatinsk Test Site.

Angel Rafael “Ralph” Vázquez-Concepción, Karipbek Kuyukov and John Orak. Photo credit: The Astana Times.

The celebration began with the crafting of origami cranes, an international symbol of peace and unity inspired by Sadako Sasaki, a young survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast.

“We fold paper cranes as a symbol of international peace and healing, bridging the societies of Japan, the U.S., and Kazakhstan—all of which have been directly impacted by nuclear weapons. We aim to continue Sasaki’s mission of promoting global peace and extend a message of healing to all nations,” said Angel Rafael “Ralph” Vázquez-Concepción, a visual artist and independent curator, in an interview with The Astana Times.

Art work by Vázquez-Concepción. Photo credit: The U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan Instagram page.

Vázquez-Concepción, a San Francisco native, visited Kazakhstan as part of the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program.

“The Art in Embassies program is an exchange initiative between the U.S. and its partner nations, enabling artists to display their artwork at embassies. The current exhibition delves into the historical context of U.S.-Kazakhstan relations concerning nuclear testing and the intricate dynamics of the Cold War,” Vázquez-Concepción added.

One of his key motivations for participating in the program was to broaden the discussion surrounding nuclear tests and weapons, especially during times of escalating international tensions.

“Our goal is to show that our generation is actively continuing the fight against nuclear tests and weapons, as exemplified by movements like the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear initiative and similar U.S. campaigns,” he stated.

Photo credit: The Astana Times.

Vázquez-Concepción expressed his deep appreciation for Kazakh artists, highlighting their dedication to nuclear nonproliferation as a core aspect of their work and identity.

“Surrounded by artists who share this commitment, I feel a profound sense of belonging here in Kazakhstan and have gleaned valuable insights into their firsthand experiences,” he said.

He shared an intriguing interaction with nuclear nonproliferation activist and renowned Kazakh artist Karipbek Kuyukov, whose art collection is also exhibited at the U.S. Mission.

“An unexpected revelation for both of us was that he found himself depicted in one of my paintings. This painting incorporated documentary images, including some featuring a young Kuyukov, and helped establish an uncanny connection between us,” Vázquez-Concepción noted.

A participant has crafted origami cranes. Photo credit: The Astana Times.

In his opinion, artists have a critical role in shaping society and driving it toward enlightenment and progress.

“I discuss specific themes or inspirations in my artwork, encouraging people to read or engage in conversations that deepen their understanding,” Vázquez-Concepción explained.

The event also featured a panel discussion where Vázquez-Concepción, Kuyukov, and social activist Ravil Budukov discussed their roles, perspectives, and contributions to the nonproliferation movement. They also addressed the urgent need to involve more countries and communities in these efforts.

“It’s more important for us to collaborate and creatively develop new regulations governing nonproliferation and avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, rather than focusing on identifying adversaries,” Kuyukov said.

The U.S. Mission also screened “Birge” (Together), a documentary highlighting collaborative U.S.-Kazakh efforts in nonproliferation.

“The film not only illuminates the relationship between the U.S. and Kazakhstan but also specifically addresses our joint work on the test site and efforts to close down certain tunnels and safely secure remaining materials,” said John Orak, the U.S. Mission’s Public Diplomacy Officer.

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