MIA Anywhere Hosts First Virtual Exhibition of Female Chechen Artists
By Global Art Daily’s Editorial Board
Published on February 1, 2021
Last November, the MIA Art Collection opened a very rare exhibition: the very first digital exhibition entirely dedicated to contemporary Chechen female artists. Entitled Mehkari, the exhibition ran from November 22nd to December 7th, 2020 on MIA Anywhere virtual museum.
Curated by Anita Shishani, Mehkari is a collaborative exhibition between MIA Art Collection and Noxchisurt, a collective founded by the young UAE-based Jordanian-Chechen curator. Mehkari takes its title from a manuscript by Luisa Soipi, an artist and illustrator of Chechen origin based in Germany. Like the book, the exhibition is inspired by the female role in Chechen mythology.
Anita, an Art & Art History senior studying at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), gave Chechen artists based between Belgium and Jordan an opportunity to connect to MIA Art Collection’s following base in the UAE and Latin America. In April 2020, during lockdown, Anita found herself with time on her hand to realize a project dear to her heritage: creating an Instagram account dedicated to young Chechen artists and “speaking about their works in a language that non-Chechens could also access.” As a cultural bridge, Mehkari was no short of a success. The 6-artists group exhibition connected artists to art collectors and art historians globally.
The virtual format allowed for easy logistics and sharing, and the response was “overwhelmingly positive,” Anita recalled in an interview for NYUAD’s The Gazelle. “I received applications and portfolios from about 40 artists, and countless messages of support from Chechens from every corner of the world.”
The exhibition opens with a quote from Mehkari: “The most mythical female warriors in the Vainakh lore are the Mehkari, the Amazons of the North Caucasus.” According to oral tradition, the Mekhari are “the first-born daughters, [...] raised as horsewomen, trained in archery and only allowed to marry after they fulfilled three actions of bravery, or defeated three enemies.” The vision of strong women is as relevant as ever in the current zeitgeist: women are increasingly at the forefront of contemporary artistic creation and curation – and writing this review about oral traditions, female representation, and empowerment through artistic expression, we cannot help but think of The Hill We Climb, the sensational poem written and triumphantly performed by 22-years-old Amanda Gorman at this year’s U.S. presidential inauguration. Seeing a young woman become the voice of a generation makes us hopeful that female representation in the arts, but also in diplomacy and politics, is a global development that will surely continue into the coming decades.
In close geographical proximity to Russia, and with a Muslim-majority population, Chechnya has experienced political instability and ethnic conflict for much of its recent past. For artists who were raised outside of Chechnya, the concept of home still very much remains – in its subtle poetry, in its oral traditions, in its landscapes. Women are in a privileged position to comment on these issues with access to intimate parts of the culture, finding themselves in a position to best translate fleeting displacements to an outside audience.
For the exhibition, Milana Alaro painted a series of portraits. Raised in Europe, she delved her own personal journey towards understanding identity and emotion through portraiture, using both autoportraits and abstraction to mask feelings of trauma and healing.
Immigration, conflict, and human rights sit at the very center of the virtual exhibition halls, with Asia Umarova’s series of paintings depicting images of scarcity, violence, and surveillance in her native land. These landscapes linger as a symbol of a fragile region, one that has suffered and is in dear need of representation, especially from female perspectives. “I started drawing when the war in Chechnya began. I was 9 years old,” explains the artist. “White sheets of paper became my companion, with whom I could share my feelings and describe my experiences through pencils and paints.” Asia has witnessed war since she was a little girl and heard stories about conflicts and displacements from her grandparents, who were deported to Kazakhstan in 1944, year of the Checheno-Ingush exile from USSR. “What is my work about? Migration, memory, war, human rights, memories, dreams, death, women's rights.”
What is my work about? Migration, memory, war, human rights, memories, dreams, death, women's rights.
- Asia Umarova
As painters, photographers, and illustrators, these six young women are very much reconnecting with their cultural heritage by celebrating the acts of bravery from century-old tales. The artists exhibited here have been raised around the world; from Chechnya to Belgium and Germany, to Jordan. Nonetheless, they know their mother-tongue and maintain their Chechen identity; they speak and paint in Chechen.
“Chechen are fighters. But there is a reason we’re seen as fighters.” Anita set the tone at the exhibition’s Zoom artist talk hosted by MIA Anywhere. “The artists are Mehkari because they choose to acknowledge and honor the trauma and the strength of their predecessors. They are not that different in spirit, to those lionhearted warriors: our great-great-great-grandmothers that reigned in the mountains of the Caucasus.”
The artists are Mehkari because they choose to acknowledge and honor the trauma and the strength of their predecessors.
- Anita Shishani
Currently, MIA Anywhere is showing another virtual exhibition entitled Levitating in the Salon dedicated to contemporary female artists. This new exhibition is also curated by Anita and focuses on young Emirati female artists.
“Mehkari” ran from November 22nd to December 7th, 2020 at the MIA Anywhere virtual museum. Curated by Anita Shishani, participating artists included Asiya Al Sheshani, Asia Umarova, Luisa Soipi, Elona Saidoulaeva, Heda Sardalova, and Milana Alaro.
Visit MIA Anywhere virtual museum.
Visit MIA Art Collection’s website.
Follow MIA Art Collection on Instagram.
Follow Noxchisurt on Instagram.
Anita Shishani is a young curator based in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The founder of Noxchisurt, a platform dedicated to contemporary Chechen art, as well as a Junior Coordinator at MIA Anywhere, she is a final-year student in Art History at NYU Abu Dhabi, has previously interned at Christie’s in Dubai, and is passionate about sharing Chechen identity and history.
MIA Art Collection is a private art collection with a global footprint aimed at promoting women artists and their work. Founded by Alejandra Castro Rioseco, Chilean philanthropist and private collector, the collection is based between New York, London, and Dubai, and currently supports the activities of its virtual museum, MIA Anywhere.