Tengri, the blue sky

The theme of Lenin statues has already been raised several times here on the blog, for example in connection with labor movement songs, the children’s cult of dictators, or recycled pedestals, indicating that one of the many strands of Río Wang is the analysis of a youth of which these sculptures were emblematic figures.

The encounter between the rejection of the classical canon and the ingenuity of folk crafts inspired a large number of surprising statues of Lenin during the seventy years of the genre’s flourishing. However, one of the most astonishing examples is that opus which, in an ingenuous way, builds up the figure of Lenin not out of an ephemeral material, but of the endless blue of the sky and the majestic mountain ranges of the Alay, offering only the contours to it that were cut out of a rolled iron plate on a Communist Saturday.

The almost six meters high Lenin head is enthroned on the rocks of the Alay mountains, high above the little town of Aravan, just south of the Kyrgyz industrial city of Osh. Strangely enough, the blog Все памятники Ленину dedicated to all the Lenin statues of the world does not list it among the monuments of Kyrgyzstan, and there are almost no photos of it in the Internet.

The “big head” was a typical genre of the iconography of Lenin, and a very practical one at that, because, on the principle of pars pro toto and by sparing remarkably much raw material and many working hours, it indicated how gigantic we should imagine the full statue represented by its mere head. Among the many well-known examples of the genre a 14 meters and 12 tons piece stands to this day not far from here, on the main square of Ulan-Ude in Buryatia, commonly called “the head” by the inhabitants of the city.

The genre also existed in several subtypes, such as the one at the Dzhambul train station.

This, however, by trying to say too much, and putting the kitchen stool with the bust of Lenin on the top of the whole globe, in the end says too little. With half of the material they could have produced more, by carving one single head of it. More monumental is the effect of the piece in Voznesene, which built the pedestal of the head from a material that is just as non-perishable as the one used to fill the contours of the head in Kyrgyzstan:

The statue and its base were recently repainted, and thus Lenin, obeying to the spirit of the times, now is standing on the basis of the capital, without any hint to any obscure author’s name.

But let us return to the Lenin head of Kyrgyzstan, whose suprising effect, one would think, cannot be enhanced any further. But it can be. The other day we came across it in such an unusual context on which even its creators – or, to be more precise, primarily they – would have never thought.

I found the 2008 Kyrgyz feature film “Tengri, the blue sky” on the Chinese internet with the title 騰格里之愛 Ténggélí zhi ài, that is “Tengri’s love”. Tengri, the Sky Father, the chief god of nomadic Turkic peoples is another name for Allah in many modern Turkic languages, and one can only guess in what kind of relation the Hungarian word “tenger” (‘sea’) of Turkic origin stands with this name, the endless blue water with the endless blue sky.

Street name table in the Uyghur provincial capital: “Tengri Street”

The film speaks about the hopeless situation of contemporary Kyrgyz villages. Temur, the thirty years old hero returns from the desiccated lake Aral to his home village to start a new life, but the village’s conservative Islamic leaders watch him with suspicion. The young Amira is waiting in vain for her husband who went to the Afghan war as a mujaheed, while suffering from her mother-in-law’s oppression. From the situation without prospects there is only a dream-like way out: the two lovers elope from the village, and start a new, nomadic life among the ranges of the Alay. Here’s an excerpt from the movie:

And it is one of the symbolic moments of the movie that when the lovers arrive to the feet of the Alay and leave the civilization behind, the landmark is nothing else but the statue of Lenin enthroned above Aravan, composed out of the blue sky. The surreal image, the gigantic rusty figure towering beside the nomadic horsemen symbolizes at the same time the failure of the past empire and way of life, but also the fact that this empire has not disappeared without a trace. The return to nature and to the ancient roots, even if possible for the lovers in a romantic film, is no longer practicable in the reality.

3 comentarios:

MOCKBA dijo...

You should probably write an entry on our famed Gilgal Garden, sculpted very much in the same mold, even with the holy books stacked as a pedestal. The Prophet's Head in Gilgal morphs into a Sphynx BTW, a pretty cool artistic and philosophical solution IMVHO. We made a dance presentation at Gilgal's anniversary bash last summer, and I was pleasantly surprised how lovingly the long-neglected Garden has been restored and deciphered. When I saw it first, it was ruined, even the Swords and Plowshares monument was stolen for scrap metal - but it's back now.

Oh, and nitpicking wise. The Altai mountains should be Tian Shan throughout, and Ulan Ide is in Butyatia, Russian Federation.

Studiolum dijo...

Well, that is really a topic you should write about. I have always found that religion very exotic, but it would take too much time to dig myself into it.

Thank you very much for the corrections, I include them right now. As to the mountain range, it is not the Tien Shan, but the Alay mountains (Алайский хребет). Just now I realized that I have falsely remembered its name, with a superfluous “t” in it, and I have always thought it to bear by chance the same name as the big Altai to the north of Dzhungaria.

MOCKBA dijo...

Oh, Alay, that makes sense. That's a huge but not well known mountain country, traditionally considered a subrange of Pamir in Russian geographical source, but sometimes lumped together with the nearby Southern Tian Shan Mtns. Tian Shan is in itself a reference to Tengri so it would be a natural fit for your topic!

No, of course I'm not writing another story about "the" Religion. I have a few Mormon history tales on the web, but they have to be very deferential to both the Mormons and to their detractors, and it's a tough balance. Gilgal Garden's website already does a nice job "in general"
but of course not comparing the sculpture with monumental art of other faiths and epochs.