Imagine you’re a young girl about to enter an enchanted forest. Snakes and other creatures you should be scared of are there. Yet you’re brave enough to push through the branches and go in. The forest is sacred and a ritual is taking place. The mask that you have worn throughout your life is being removed because you don’t need its protection anymore. You leave the forest, look back and it’s gone.
Were you dreaming?
Assel Sargaskayeva, a contemporary artist from Kazakhstan, is passionate about fairy tales and storytelling; her first solo UK exhibition ‘Enchanted’ encapsulates that. The ‘Enchanted Forest Series’ is a set of three paintings, which tells the story described above. It was inspired by the Islamic philosopher, Al-Farabi. Assel said, “
It is important to spread the culture of the East and to bring its zest to the West through my paintings.”
At a young age Assel moved to the UK and received professional art tutoring, alongside her maths and science studies. She started putting pencil to paper as a way to express her feelings. Due to the language barrier she once had, drawing was easier than writing. To this day Assel still takes private lessons from painters she admires.
When asked what materials she prefers to use in her artwork, Assel replied, “I don’t like to put a constraint on what I can make.”
Her creations are incredibly unique. I couldn’t possibly imagine her designs in my own mind, yet Assel has a way of unlocking something new and bringing it to life. Although paints, pencils and acrylics on paper or canvas are her most common methods, she is open to multiple techniques.
Colour is what Assel struggles with the most, because she wants to create bright and joyful pieces, yet a lot of her art comes from dark or self-reflective times.
An example of this is in ‘Self-portrait’, where her face is sketched without colour, but her head is bulging with intricate patterns and various colours. A symbol of her fight to act ‘normal’ in the corporate world she works in. Behind the face of the CFO of K&K, lives a creative brain that functions in a fictional world and is transported to reality via her paintings.
Assel explores the conflict between logical and metaphysical thinking, especially focusing on women and their relationship with magic. ‘Enchanted’ is part of the Silk Road series; multiple exhibition projects, which are dedicated to exploring the problem of a woman’s happy existence, the freedom of her creativity, the relations between men and women and the value of Kazakhstan’s culture abroad.
‘Birth of the Family’ represents the family tree and the DNA of our ancestors. The left side of the painting could be any woman in Kazakhstan or Assel, herself. The artist explains her belief that “a man wouldn’t be who he was without his mother, the woman. She, who is able to grow flowers and energy.”
Many small details can be depicted in this piece. The tiny magnolia flower connotes gentle yet resilient femininity. Whilst searching for more clues in the artist’s message, Assel expressed her delight in “leaving a quest in all of [her] paintings.”
At those words, I felt like a child again. The act of curiosity and the ability to be absorbed in something seems to fade as we age. A child can keep their head in a book for hours or amuse their minds with their imagination.
Assel’s artwork is a map that we are encouraged to get lost in. A world that we are encouraged to look at differently. Wandering around her exhibition room in V.O Curations gave me the sense that I was inside a story. Every time I returned to the same painting, more could be found and in every conversation with Assel, more could be learned.