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.