Kyrgyzstan launched its first ‘Feminnale’ for feminist art. Then the censors arrived / by Erica X Eisen / CALVERT Journal

Artist Valeriya Zubatenko rallies in support of the Kyrgyz Feminnale. Image: Valeriya Zubatenko/Facebook

Bishkek’s Feminnale kicked off a fight against the patriarchy. But with government censorship, the struggle is proving even more difficult than artists predicted.

“No one has ever censored her out before,” Kazakh artist Zoya Falkova says. “It’s just never happened.”

The “she” in question is Evermust, a sculpture composed of a black-and-red punching bag shaped like a female body. It’s a statement on gendered violence in a region where such incidents are commonplace; a joint survey by the UN and the World Heath Organisation in Falkova’s native Kazakhstan found that almost 20 per cent of women surveyed had been either physically or sexually abused by a partner. The artwork has been known to produce strong reactions. Men not infrequently fondle or beat it (one such incident in Astana was violent enough to necessitate repairs), women who have experienced domestic violence are sometimes moved to tears, and children hug the piece as though it were an oversized doll. It is perhaps no wonder that Falkova speaks of the sculpture as if it were a living woman.

Evermust has previously drawn official ire. When two diplomats from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were photographed next to the punching bag at an exhibition in Germany, government officials from both countries attempted to force Falkova to remove the image from her Facebook page. But it is at the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts that the work has been formally censored for the first time.