Monuments of Bishkek: monument El kutu (National wealth)
This article from the magazine of the Laboratoria Ci “Monuments of Bishkek” (May, 2018). In this issue we refer to urban objects, this time to its monuments and memorials. They interest us because they serve as symbolic objects, documenting the dominant idea of the discourse or vice versa losing this dominant idea over time in view of the changing political and socio-economic context. Thus, we turn our attention to the processes and narratives in which these objects appeared, transformed and continue to exist.
“Earlier, there were bronze statues of outstanding people of the past on these pedestals, and they had all power: political and socio-cultural,” says young artist Bermet about the sculptural and architectural composition El kutu, “with the disappearance of the figures, the monument gained a different meaning: do not become attached to the old, but give the youth the reins of government. Thus, we conducted a performance with live young people, with those who have not even realized their potential. This monument invites everyone to climb and stand on pedestals. I did it.” (Bermet, interview, April 22, 2018).
The El kutu Monument, which in Kyrgyz means national treasure, was installed on the Youth Avenue in Bishkek with the money of the author, monumental sculptor Turgunbai Sadykov in 1995. The 1990’s, in the public life of Kyrgyzstan is the time of the reign of state and personal initiatives of the Soviet intelligentsia to determine identity, of course, by rethinking past and current “heroes.” The Kyrgyz intelligentsia in a new era of transformation, on its last gasp, held on to the illusory power inherited from the Soviet times. And it could not jump into the last car of speedily rushing capitalism, remaining in the 21st century on the outskirts of consciousness in its paradoxical posture, undoubtedly accompanied by romantic solipsism towards those different from their class and the new brazen youth.
“This began to occur in the 1990’s, when monuments were vandalized everywhere. It’s a shame to see this,” says T. Sadykov about those last days of the naive and poor Kyrgyz society (Sputnik.kg, 2015).
The sculptural and architectural composition El kutu gathered 29 figures from the historical period of Kyrgyzstan: public figures, workers of culture and art of the past, contemporaries of the monument’s author. Among them, academician and president at that time, Askar Akaev. But the monument looked like this only in its initial existence in the topography of the city. It has been several decades that the monument is perceived differently, losing its original connotation. “This monument hooked me when I was studying at KNU and passed this strange monument every day. It is unclear why, to whom and for what this monument, similar to a heart and a tree crown, was erected. Once, when curiosity overpowered, and I got to know it better, I saw that it bears the names of outstanding people of the past. I could not imagine that over the names used to stand their majestic figures. It was later that I learned that the figures were stolen as “colored metal.” In my opinion, the monument without the figures of our fathers characterizes our present state of society: We carry nostalgia for the past in our hearts, but in the present our tree crowns do not bear heroes. Heroes are left in the past, now life is more faceless, despite the fact that we live a public life in social networks and on the Internet.” (Eric, interview, April, 2018).
City municipality decided to dismantle the remaining copper sculptures for restoration after several figures were stolen. “The mayor’s office does not restore the monument because of lack of money. But I still have all the sketches, casts, preliminary workings on El kutu, and I could quickly return the historical view of the monument. And I have been asking for it for a long time, – says the author and initiator of El kutu T. Sadykov, – the place of installation of the monument was not chosen by chance. I wanted the young generation who studies in the nearby KNU named after J. Balasagyn to know what one or another famous Kyrgyzstani looked like,” says the author about the site of the installation (Sputnik.kg, 2015).
From the position of topography, the location of the monument is of interest: they chose the Youth Avenue, which leads from the main building of the Kyrgyz National University to the International University of Kyrgyzstan. Nearby there is the Philharmonia, as well as the Bishkek Mayor’s office. In this space, the process of layering of the topography of circulating texts takes place, which participate in the formation of the image and functioning of space around the sculptural and architectural composition El kutu. And if the following narrative about the event around the monument would not be its last chapter, it could be sent to the past with a peace of mind. The urban legend about the choice of a place for planting sakura seedlings, which Almazbek Atambayev brought as a gift from Japan in 2007, returned the discourse about the present state of the monument, thus returning to the citizens the memory of the original meaning of El kutu. The chosen place for the planting of the sakura brought by the president was the Youth Avenue, at the intersection of Turusbekov and Ryskulov streets, right next to the El kutu monument. The problem is that the site allegedly no longer belongs to the city municipality, and is privately owned; as a result it was decided to plant sakura seedlings elsewhere in the city. Such urban legends not only narrate about an event in the city, but also participate in creating the urban landscape – a peculiar city-text, defining the “special” zones of the city, changing and moving the semantic content.
A resident of a city is immersed in the topography of the text of the city and identifies the city as a map of perceptions, a map of cases: terrible and funny stories, tales and stories about unexplained events, retelling of rumors and gossip. Sakura entered the city like an elephant in a china shop, actually putting periods to the ambivalent state of the monument and its meanings in an era when talking about heroes becomes an extra burden in the body of the city space.
- Give the Youth Avenue to youth and citizens. (July 22, 2010). Data from: http://www.meria.kg/index.php?option=com_newscatalog&view=article&id=263&Itemid=339&lang=kg
- «Bishkekglavarhitektura” [Bishkek main department of architecture and urban development] said who owns a piece of land near the Philharmonia, where the president wanted to plant sakura seedlings. (April 8, 2013). Data from: http://news.rambler.ru/world/18467919/?utm_content=rnews&utm_medium=read_more&utm_source=copylink
- Kyrgyzstan is our common home: interethnic relations. (June 28, 2014). Data from: https://www.open.kg/about-kyrgyzstan/political-entity/domestic-policy/589-kyrgyzstan-nash-obschiy-dom-mezhnacionalnye-otnosheniya.html
- A question to the mayor’s office: when will the monument to El kutu be restored? (November 18, 2015). Data from: https://www.sputnik.kg/vopros/20151118/1020206172.html