AYA SHALKAR: Intertwined in the Inexplicable

"Our job as creatives is to find and rediscover languages to translate it into the world, physically, visually or through context."


Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng

Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng


THE CREATIVE


Profession:

Conceptual multimedia artist


Current Location:

Based in Los Angeles, USA; Currently in Almaty, Kazakhstan


Introduction :

I’m a 26 y.o. conceptual artist from Kazakhstan, who has tried many things to express herself. But I always feel like a coin spinning in a bowl, always falling into its deepest curve. That curve being fine art.


Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng

Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng


Context:

Aya Shalkar (Kazakhstan/US) is a Kazakh conceptual multimedia artist currently based in Los Angeles. At the age of 17, she moved to France to study Visual Arts at the University of Strasbourg. She later transferred to the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Austria, where she received a Masters in Graphic Design in 2020. Shalkar is the founder of Studio Oneki, an experimental design studio based in Kazakhstan. Shalkar’s artistic practice is rooted in her Central Asian background and Kazakh visual and material culture, with many of her works addressing cultural identity and gender roles. She includes the techniques of embroidery, patchwork and other forms of traditional applied arts that are predominantly practiced by women.


Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht

Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht


Sapar Contemporary

Aya Shalkar about her recent project

Sapar Contemporary (NYC) is showing a group exhibition of Ukrainian and Kazakh women artists who reflect on the current war and other battles fought by women. The inspiration for the exhibition came from seeing intergenerational caravans of grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and family pets migrating from the war zones. These images have been deeply felt at the gallery whose founders have family, friends, artists, and roots in Ukraine. The sense of terror brought to mind sources of strength available to women, connections that they forge across time and space, rituals recovered and re-invented in times of cataclysms.


Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht


Two young Kazakh artists contribute a bold feminist Eurasian perspective on gender roles and women’s tools and weapons. Their perspective is also rooted in Gen Z aesthetic that is influenced by gaming, fantasy, meta verse and web3. Aya Shalkar (Kazakhstan/US) whose artistic universe is a place where Central Asian heritage meets science fiction and fantasy presents a series of three steel sculptures/blades titled "I Like It When You Are Soft".


“I like it when you’re soft: Dagger, Knife and Star.” The shapes of the blades are based on the motifs of Kazakh ornaments that are used for embroidery, patchwork and other forms of traditional applied arts predominantly practiced by women, however the resulting steel sculptures are short lethal weapons. Shalkar speaks of these soft, feminine shapes carved into imaginary cold weapons as “materialization of her suppressed anger.”


Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht

Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht


THE QU & A


What are 3 values that you wish to mediate through your work?


Empowerment

Freedom of expression

Diversity


What are 3 relevant problems that you wish to solve through your work?


Sexism

Eurocentrism

Access


Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng

Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng


GOODWILL


How can Creatives improve their impact on the world by creating intentionally?

All art is reflective. I think the subconscious finds its way out one way or another. The collective subconscious is very united and time-sensitive. Our job as creatives is to find and rediscover languages to translate it into the world, physically, visually or through context. I think the best way to improve your possible impact is to find that one language that’s going to be your clearest voice. You can’t really advocate without speaking it fluently.


Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng

Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng


How can Creative Leaders show a more realistic example of trial and error?


I personally struggle with it. In the age of social media and art being diminished into being mere content, it’s hard to stay true to your processes and be transparent and interactive at the same time. It’s like a whole extra job for every artist I know. I think the best way to facilitate it is to open conversations and discussions, being open to dialog when it’s time. Sharing your processes can also be very helpful. I’m still learning.


Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng

Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng


How can we become more transparent with each other?


True compassion and real-life connection almost always solve the transparency issue in my experience. But it’s a real challenge when it comes to access. It does imply travel, language and physical ability. So probably one way to make transparency more accessible is practicing a mindful digital presence and openness.


Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng

Aya Shalkar. Photography by Louisa Meng


THE CONVERSATION

Aya Shalkar invites Sean Alequin into conversation


Selfless vs. Selfish: what is a realistic balance between these two states of minds and how can creative relationships help finding it?


AYA SHALKAR


When it comes to the creation of art itself, I think at the beginning, it’s always kind of selfish. It’s later on that you realize that it never was. But sharing outcome and knowledge is different. Intention plays a big role, and if it’s to spread and give, rather than to take and make it exclusive, then we’re on the right track. I don’t think you can fully control it because it greatly depends on an individual’s character. It’s important to find a balance that works for you and to be conscious of your ego’s role in it.


Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht

Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht


Guest of AYA SHALKAR

SEAN ALEQUIN

Designer & Bespoke Jeweller, NYC


Piggybacking off of what Aya said I completely agree. I think as creatives at first we do unintentionally create selfishly.

It’s only till we meet or share a conversation with another creative that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. This vulnerability allows us to hear with open ears. Going back-and-forth with another creative on ideas with intentions, we’re able to find almost a balance where we can develop very complex things that make sense.

I think there always needs to be a balance between selfishness and selflessness because without that balance there’s no middle ground. It’s extremely important to learn from one another by letting go of your ego, this allows an artist to grow and expand.


Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht

Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the artist. Photography by Kristina Shakht


THE LEADER


Creative Leaders to look up to:

My current inspo top-chart includes creatives like Es Delvin, Neri Oxman, musicians Tsunaina, Grimes, Sevdaliza and photographer Carlota Guerrero.


A Creative Practice:

I am a firm believer that expanding your knowledge base in general, regardless of the area, can have a great impact on your creativity. Learning new languages, getting better at math, biology or other sciences, diving deeper into literature and poetry. I’m currently learning a lot about the qualities of steel and ways of treating it to produce durable yet intricate weapons. Being a conceptual artist involves being a beginner in almost everything you take up at some point. All cerebral processes are intertwined in an inexplicable, beautiful way. You never know how it’s going to manifest itself in your work.


This interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.


Written and Edited by Julia Horvath

Image Courtesy of Aya Shalkar, Louisa Meng & Kristina Shakht