Kyrgyzstan's Soviet-era Poster Child Gets an iPad

Doch Kyrgyzia

Kyrgyz daughters old and new. Image mixed by author.

When he wasn't depicting Kyrgyzstan's awesome natural environment, Semyon Chuikov, an Honoured Artist of the USSR born in what is now the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek in 1902, was always careful to make sure his artwork didn't stray beyond the strict, socialist parameters provided for by Soviet artistic policy.

Were Chuikov still alive, he might be surprised to learn that one of his most famous and iconic paintings – “Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia” – is being remade with a twist thanks to the help of a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek.

“Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia” is a jewel of Soviet-era propaganda, emphasizing social and economic progress in Moscow's rural hinterland. The painting's muse — a red headscarf-wearing Kyrgyz schoolgirl striding to her classes with an exercise book in hand — became famous across the USSR. In Kyrgyzstan, then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kyrgyzia, she turned into something of a national icon.

Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia became a union-wide stamp in her heyday.

Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia became a union-wide stamp in her heyday.

By the start of the school year this year she will have a new look, spray-painted onto the facade of a four-story state school in Bishkek, holding what appears to be an iPad and wearing what appear to be Apple's signature white ear phones. The remake was paid for by the U.S. Embassy and completed by a group of local artists working with an American painter. 

Some have already registered their irritation at the image, currently half-painted on Bishkek's School No.12. On independent media outlet's facebook page, one user, Rimma Borubaevna Diushenbieva, wrote:

можно было картину не трогать: не надо торопиться, лишь бы себя показать или затронуть автора. Это прекрасная картина.

They could have avoided defacing the painting: there was no need to rush to show themselves off or take something away from the [original] author. The [original painting] is simply beautiful.

However, founder Bektour Iskender cautioned against sentimentalizing the country's historical heroes and revelling in the past: 

Конечно, планшет и наушники – это банальщина невероятная. Но пусть будет. Это хорошо, когда можно безнаказанно модифицировать священное. Я за абсолютную свободу творчества.Не должно быть ничего, на что мы должны бояться дышать. Я хочу, чтобы в моей стране можно было не бояться шутить о Манасе, калпаке, Курманжан датке, Чингизе Айтматове и, разумеется, о любой религии (или об атеизме – но с этим проблем как раз нет). Мы будем сильны тогда, когда сможем спокойно относиться к юмору над любым явлением нашего прошлого, а не тратить силы на борьбу с мельницами.Я представляю, какие шлакоблоки гнева будут высирать все борцы за святое из-за того, что Дочери советской Киргизии дали в руки планшет. Ну что же, на здоровье.

Of course, the tablet and headphones – it's incredibly trivial. But let it be. It is good when you can modify the sacred with impunity. I am for absolute creative freedom. There should not be anything or anyone around which we should be afraid to breathe. I want my country not to be afraid to joke about Manas, Kalpaks, Kurmanjan Datka, Chinghiz Aitmatov…We are strong when we can relate easily and with humor to any phenomenon of our past, and not when we waste our time fighting with windmills. I can already imagine the embers of fury pouring forth from the soldiers of the sacred, all because the Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia has been given a tablet. Well, good health to them.

The painting will be unveiled at the “first bell” of the Kyrgyz school year on September 1. Apple will no doubt pass on their thanks to Washington for the free advert.


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