Aliya Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen: Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia

Semion Chuikov: Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia

Semion Chuikov, A Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia, 1948. Oil on canvas, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Semion Chuikov, A Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia, 1948. Oil on canvas, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

A Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia was, and still remains, one of the main images to spring out in the minds’ of post-Soviet peoples at the mention of Central Asian art of the Stalin period. The original painting was created in 1949 by the artist Semion Chuikov, who was born in Kyrgyzia, but of ethnic Russian origin and educated in Russia. It was exhibited in Moscow and in 1949 was given the highest award for an artwork, the Stalin Prize. Such recognition of the work immediately gave it an almost iconic status and lead to the widespread dissemination of copies. There are at least three painted versions in existence. But more importantly, there are countless photographic reproductions. In terms of public memory the illustrations produced within schoolbooks and distributed right across the USSR were especially effective. To this day ‘Kyrgyzia’ is to Russians a girl lost amid the steppes.

When the image of a whole nation, even one so small a nation as Soviet Kyrgyzia, rests heavily on one oil painting of a girl walking through an empty steppe clutching a book in her hand, there must be very powerful forces of representation at play. The daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia is walking away from the imperialist past and towards an imaginary future. The painting now rests at the State Tretyakov Gallery in the Russian, and previously Soviet, capital city of Moscow.

This painting had a lot of power in an almost political sense: it had the power to grip people’s minds, to alter, or create perceptions, to be seen, to be remembered and to be loved. This power rested upon the significance of several diverse factors, such as the appropriateness of the painting’s subject, the painterly style, the celebrity of the artist and the means for dissemination available when all the aforementioned factors had successfully been put together.

The girl is at once a Central Asian emancipated heroine, the new future of the Soviet woman and the forever young and forever feminine image of the Soviet East. Yet she is also the object of the Russian gaze, which can be identified as male, adult and progressive. The relationship signified is that of parent and child, of educator and student, of powerful male and subjugated female. With the angle of the composition the girl’s figure pushes up into the sky and she becomes a monument to illusive freedom and a reminder of an obliterated past.


This is an excerpt from art historian Aliya Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen's new book 'Central Asia in Art', published in June 2016 by I.B.Tauris. Presenting the 'untold story' of Soviet Orientalism, Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen reveals the imperial project of the Soviet state, placing the Orientalist undercurrent found within art and propaganda production in the USSR alongside the creation of new art forms in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. 




Curator's blog: Celebrating Prokofiev

In 2016 the whole world celebrates the 125th anniversary of Sergey Prokofiev, an emblematic Russian composer, one of the artists that makes up Russia’s Hall of Fame. CDs are being released and his music is being programmed around the globe. Valery Gergiev has put on two extraordinary galas in Moscow and St Petersburg and in September he is bringing his famous Mariinsky Orchestra to London’s Cadogan Hall to perform all of Prokofiev’s symphonies in the course of three evenings. Russian pianist Nikolay Lugansky continues to do the complete cycle of Prokofiev’s concertos with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. On 5 October Blackheath Halls launches a brand new charity, dedicated to the memory of Sergey’s son, Oleg.

As the home of Russian culture in London, Pushkin House could not possibly stand aside and we will host our own Prokofiev marathon on Friday 21st October during Bloomsbury Festival. Distinguished musicians whose geography ranges from Siberia to Estonia, Kazakhstan to the UK combine forces in order to produce a rarely heard combination of Prokofiev’s vocal and instrumental works.

Songs on Akhmatova’s poems will be followed by instrumental and chamber music masterpieces and the whole evening will culminate in the performance of one of his most famous works – the 7th Sonata for piano for which the composer received a Stalin Prize. Performers on the night are prizewinners of more than 20 international competitions including ‘Tchaikovsky’ in Moscow and ‘Van Cliburn’ in Texas. What will add to the uniqueness of the event is the world premiere of a work commissioned by Pushkin House especially for the occasion. In his composition British composer-pianist Nathan Williamson will be paying tribute to Prokofiev’s ‘indefatigable belief in his own decisions and opinions’.

Alexander is the Music Curator at the Pushkin House and helps organise the classical music side of our programme. He is a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and City University London, where in 2014 he successfully defended his doctoral thesis on performance practice in the music of Nikolay Medtner. If you would like to propose a concert at Pushkin House, or have any other enquiries relating to our music programme, please email Alexander on


Liz Sergeant: Creating the Exhibition

The beautifully proportioned, elegant spaces of Pushkin House are a perfect setting for our new work, based on the imaginative world of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. It’s installation week and we arrive laden down with our work  - canvases of all shapes and sizes, photographic prints, sculpture, furniture, even a typewriter…and there’s still more to come. The pale grey walls of the Grand Salon are an excellent backdrop to the delicate colours and rich textures of the paintings; the difficult task of curating this body of work begins.