We used to be Seaweed

curated by Lilia Bakanova

  • This information will be updated.
Imagine a journey that starts with a long train ride followed by an off-road drive through the desert, ending at what used to be the Aral Sea. Once the world's fourth-largest lake, it has reduced to an eighth of its size since the 1950s due to water being diverted for cotton farming. This made a drastic impact on the climate and life in Central Asia, mainly in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Against expectations, this landscape reveals striking beauty rather than depression: the desert blooms with a poignant tenderness; colors are muted by a superfine sandy powder, creating a velvety touch; unknown grass smells of chemically flavored lollipops.

Now imagine that in this remote town with no tourists where you hired the car, there is a world-class collection of Russian and Central Asian avant-garde. This is Savitsky museum, named after an artist who rescued paintings discarded by museums across the USSR in the 1960-70s. This town, Nukus, was so far from the Soviet government, that the collection survived. It not only educated and inspired local artists but also includes their works, many depicting the Aral Sea throughout the 20th century.

Our exhibition will create a dialog between historical and contemporary perspectives of the Aral Sea and the life around it. The Museum provides a perfect backdrop for the exhibition, given its history of resilience and collection of paintings depicting the region's transformations.
Featured contemporary works will include:
- A Kazakh-Korean artist explores the Aral area through imaginary history. Using AI, he reconstructs his family's archive lost during deportation of Koreans from the Soviet Far East to Kazakhstan in 1937. The work will invite the viewers to consider a link between the erasure of culture and landscape, between identity and displacement.
- An Uzbek video artist connecting inadequate exploitation of shared water resources and female labour in Central Asia.
- An installation that will engage with the visitors through imaginary textures, sounds and smells, making the invisible resilience of Aral visible. This artist's projects are focused on accessibility to diverse audience. To build on this inclusive effort, she will create t touchable versions of the paintings featured in our exhibition. This will complement the museum's wheelchair access by introducing a wider range of sensory experiences.
- A photographic project by a Kazakh photographer will bridge the Kazakh and Uzbek regions of the Aral, fostering understanding and sensitivity between communities by offering glimpses into each other's lives and shared water challenges.

Beyond looking, touching, smelling and listening, we're inviting people to get involved. Visitors can help plant seeds that they can take home and later return to the desert as seedlings for the local biostation. We'll also teach them how to make biodegradable containers for holding water for these plants. This is about more than just raising awareness; it's about small collective actions and new connections.
Lilia Bakanova is an interdisciplinary artist of Russian/Kazakh/Uzbek origin based in the UK. Her work is focused on aging, decay and transformation. She uses smell, video, sound and sculpture to engage with diverse audience, including those with sensory limitations.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.