Panopticon: The Unsettled Body
A solo exhibition of Nurbol Nurakhmet
14th April – 18th June 2023
Open 2pm to 6pm, Wednesday to Saturday and
during the London Gallery Weekend, 2nd - 4th June
Ainalaiyn Space and Three Highgate are proud to present Panopticon, Nurbol Nurakhmet’s debut solo exhibition in London.
Nurbol Nurakhmet is a prominent painter from Central Asia who has developed his painting practice internationally. In Panopticon: The Unsettled Body, the artist expands the definition of space beyond its traditional understanding; not only situating his figures within interiors and landscapes but spaces of memory, the past, and political ideology. Working in large-scale painting, drawing and collage, Nurakhmet’s practice explores the poetics of inhabiting a body as a site for subjectivity, discipline and memory. His practice depicts the ways in which the human experience engages in an ever-changing dialogue with the spaces we inhabit.
Nurakhmet’s gestural handling of oil paints construct scenes of suspension; spaces feel timeless and bodies are unresolved. Swathes of bright colour produce a visual impasto resonant with Arshile Gorky or Lee Krasner, creating paintings that not only convey the experiences of inhabiting a body, but capture the results of the artist’s body in direct relation to the canvas.
Documenting the presence and movement of a body is dominant within these new works, but it is the political implications of these observations that have informed this exhibition’s title. In the eighteenth-century, English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham first introduced the concept of the panopticon, a prison in which a central watch tower is surrounded by a circle of cells. While the inmates cannot see into the tower, the guards are granted unlimited surveillance of each cell.
This imbalance of access creates uncertainty for the inmates, as they must anticipate being observed at all times. The panopticon was never actualised but instead symbolised an ideology of discipline manifested through the threat of constant surveillance, which Bentham believed had the ability to dramatically alter and regulate society. It is this understanding of the profound impact of our environments on our human experience which has shaped this new body of work.
Throughout Nurakhmet’s practice, bodies shift between the statuesque and dynamic. Each figure feels isolated and swept up within their own interior world, even in scenes with multiple subjects. The viewer experiences the endless vicissitudes of the body: figures sit forlornly in Waiting Room, leap with desperation in Short Cut, and crouch with vulnerability in Garden Time. Nurakhmet approaches figuration as though each corporeal form has not yet reached its final state, shifting between stillness and motion, contemplation and action, complicity and defiance. These figures are faceless (sometimes headless) and nude which implies a sense of the surreal or enigmatic, yet they are stripped of identity echoing the ideologies of the panopticon. In works such as Cosmonauts, this erasure of specific identities is taken to its most extreme. Bodies are skinned, faceless and without hands and so, fingerprints.
Encountering these scenes recalls the experience of mistakenly entering an occupied and private room; by looking in, it is as though we have interrupted a narrative that is well underway and unfurling before us. Nurakhmet’s paintings depict interiors that are reminiscent of cinematic vignettes or the works of old masters such as Vermeer. Stark lighting and thoughtfully positioned figures produce a composition akin to a theatrical mise-en-scene that is shrouded in doubt and fascination. Exact locations are difficult to place. The viewer may recognise the desks of a classroom or a building in the city, but the gestural brushstrokes mar as much as they build their representational contents in which it resides.Paintings such as Untitled (Back to the Future) feature canvases lent against a wall, hinting at the intimate space of the artist’s studio or his private psyche. Interior spaces are without windows and scenes outside are washed with skies of swirling colour which produce a sense of timelessness.
Yet, through the smallest of details, this timelessness is punctured with reality. The inclusion of classical sculptures hints to a recognisable, if not long-forgotten past. The iconic tick or three stripes of global fashion brands also situate these figures within a contemporary context. Nurakhmet’s interplay with past and present creates a series of spaces that combine reality with sites of memory, nostalgia and subjectivity. he works included in Panopticon are deeply rooted in the history of painting – encompassing the atmospheric scenes of Vermeer and the impactful mark-making of Krasner – this body of works combines the world building of old masters with the visceral handling of paint from more contemporary painting movements. Within this exhibition, Nurakhmet illustrates figures that are complex, unresolved and constantly becoming, demonstrating the body’s dialogue with the physical, psychic and political spaces in which it resides.
About Nurbol Nurakhmet
Nurbol Nurakhmet (b. 1986) is a Kazakh artist, working in painting, collage, drawing and lithography. He lives and works in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he trained at the Kazakh National Academy of Art. He also received a Master of Fine Arts at the Academy of Art at the University of San Francisco in the USA.
Nurakhmet’s practice demonstrates how the depiction of the body can convey both the complex inner world of the individual and the socio-political climate of a nation. In this way, his work oscillates between the personal and the collective. Nurakhmet’s figures are often depicted nude, with obscured features, or without skin or heads. This vulnerable depiction of the human figure alludes to political violence and the experienced loss of identity, histories and cultures in his native country. Constructing enigmatic scenes, his practice reflects on spaces of memory and navigates moments of introspection, nostalgia, and protest.
Nurakhmet has been exhibited internationally, both in solo and group shows. Notable exhibitions include Split at Aspan Gallery (2019, Almaty, Kazakhstan), Eurasian Utopia: Post Scriptum at the Suwon I’Park Museum of Art (2018, Suwon, South Korea), At the Corner: City, Place, People at the Tselinny Centre for Contemporary Culture (2018, Almaty, Kazakhstan), Suns and Neons above Kazakhstan at the Yarat (2017, Baku, Azerbaijan) and Unconscious in A. Kasteev Museum of Arts (2014, Almaty, Kazakhstan).
Notes to Editors
Panopticon runs from 14 April – 18 June 2023. The exhibition is open 2 - 6 pm Wednesday – Saturday and during the London Gallery Weekend, 2 - 4 June. On all other days by appointment only. To book an appointment, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
The exhibition has been curated by Indira Dyussebayeva-Ziyabek, assisted by Phoebe Bradley-White, and produced in collaboration with Three Highgate Gallery.
About Three Highgate
Three Highgate is an art gallery and creative hub based in Highgate Village, an iconic part of London, perched at the top of Highgate Hill and teeming with history and culture. The gallery places special emphasis on development and promotion of both emerging and established artists with a unique and poetic vision.
In addition to its contemporary art programme, Three Highgate also runs diverse cultural Symposia - artist-led gatherings and live events dedicated to theatre, literature, music, dance, film and poetry.
About Ainalaiyn Space
Established in 2022 by Indira Dyussebayeva-Ziyabek, Ainalaiyn Space is a nomadic arts project that showcases contemporary art from an interdisciplinary perspective. The project is primarily based in London but works in collaboration with international organisations and a global community of artists, curators and researchers. With learning, research, and experimentation at the centre of its practice, Ainalaiyn Space’s exhibitions, residencies and public learning programme celebrate the intersections between art and fields such as science, psychoanalysis, performance, philosophy, anthropology and archaeology.