• Amira Tomiris Akhmetova

Kazakhstan: Ancient Art

Updated: Jul 26

Kazakhstan's art culture history takes its roots in ancient times. Many artworks have been discovered during archaeological research in our country, created from centuries of graphic activity of people from the Stone Age.

Under the graphic activity, we imply occupation (individual or group of masters who have creative ideas and technical skills), aiming at the creation of artistic works (small plastic, mobile and monumental sculptures, petroglyphs, jewellery, prestigious arts and crafts items, etc.) designed to meet the artistic and other (religious legal, social, political, spiritual, aesthetic) needs of society and its representatives, as well as to capture, store and transfer to subsequent generations accumulated in eth- no-sociocultural formations of an era experience knowledge and mythopoetic views through "visual texts."

Plot of hunting and battle scenes with the Warriors, armed with a club. Shimaily I. Tarbagatai Ridge. Eastern Kazakhstan. Source: The Kazakh Art, 2013.

We can see the graphic activity rudiments in the early stages of human history. In the Upper Paleolithic era, people had been creating art masterpieces that represented the cave paintings of the Franco-Cantabrian region, Kapova and other caves in the Urals. The samples of stone age cave paintings are also known in Central Asia (Hoyttsenker Agui in Mongolia). Scribbling is a symbolic sign posted on the walls of the Akbaur grotto (Eastern Kazakhstan), which has been used by many researchers in the religious developments and paleo-metal era people's worldview.

In the Stone Age, people often made different things using stone, bone and antlers depicting various animals and birds, which were used in the process of life, especially in worship. In many cases, they were covered by whimsical patterns and symbolic signs.

Things found in the rocky burial in the Kargaly gorge near Almaty. Source: The Kazakh Art, 2013.

A splash of graphic activity is noted in the Bronze Age. Due to the most critical factors associated with people's life, there are new progressive economic-cultural types established based primarily on cattle breeding, mining and metallurgy, handicraft production, hunting; the complexity of social relations and the relevant social institutions formation and promoting cultural diffusion, accumulation of rational knowledge about the world, and the destruction of mythopoetic thinking old stereotypes and new ideological orientations and religious practices that are believed to be more associated with psychophysiological fundaments of art.

The Bronze Age Fine Art Extant monuments reflect the dynamics of human culture development, the specifics of the forms and mechanisms of adaptation to different natural ecological niches and the life-support systems of various ethnocultural formations, which are in close contact with each other over a vast area of Eurasia.

However, the question of what are the driving motives in this process, if any of them are purely aesthetic reasons, artistic character, or "creation of things" (as well as reified works of art - statues, ornaments, petroglyphs, etc.) as a demiurgic phenomenon in mythopoetic thinking (Toporov, 1995, p. 8) which obey to religious and philosophical, pragmatic-procedural and other conceptual norms that existed in a given society remained largely open, although on these problems there are various hypotheses and serious scientific research.

Image of a deer in the saka zoomorphic style. Eshkiolmes. Zhetys. Source: The Kazakh Art, 2013.

Of course, reflecting the people's specific worldview in multifaceted manifestations is mobile sculpture (small plastic), stelae and monumental statues, deer stones, petroglyphs, ornamentation - arts and crafts and other fine works associated with the spiritual being of man, and not directly with the functions of life support, and they are designed for visual perception; they are a part of the general cultural context and, for the most part, included in ritual and ceremonial practices of the different groups of the studied era.

From various Bronze Age people's graphic activity directions, we will consider in this angle just a few examples of monumental art, small plastic arts and crafts, ornaments and petroglyphs. Essential Elements of the Bronze Age Fine Art monuments have survived centuries of transformation and the different ethnic impacts and cultural and religious-ideological phenomena and remain in Kazakh art. This is particularly noticeable in the works of arts and crafts.

Naturally, we are close to the cultural phenomena of Saka, Sarmatian Massagetian and especially Turkic peoples of the early Middle Ages. They created a mobile society and artistic treasures adapted to the real-life conditions reflecting the specifics of their worldview, creative ideas in concrete and bizarre images, and implemented special technical and stylistic techniques.

We consider the fine arts development of the Kazakh steppes peoples in the Early Iron Age and the Middle Ages in the continuity problems context on the background of their extensive contacts and relations in the Eurasian cultural and historical space.

Stone sculpture, Southern Kazakhstan. Exhibited in Nazabayev Museum, Astana. Source: The Kazakh Art, 2013.

One of the first works of Kazakhstan art history, where the development of the artistic idea has been considered since ancient times, was written in 1970 by Nakyedbek Nurmukhammedov (an outstanding artist and promoter of Kazakh people and their ancestor's culture and fine arts) using petroglyphs, objects of artistic bronze and Saka medieval toreutics small forms, stone sculptures, monuments, and works of decorative and applied art crafts of subsequent periods.

Artistic aspects of archaeological material were treated in different years and special and generalizing works of Kazakh archaeologists.

Since then, much time has passed. The fact-logical material increase in archaeology and other related disciplines, a rapid blooming of artistic culture and enormous improvements in the artistic consciousness of creative individuals that occurred after the Soviet Union collapsed dictate the need for comprehension and summarizing the graphic activity resulting in theoretical works on the Kazakh people art history in the new era paradigms context. Therefore, this series of albums on the artistic culture should be considered an essential step toward the creation of generalizing fundamental work on Kazakhstan's fine arts history.


Kazakhstan Sculpture: 1920-1950s

Kazakhstan Sculpture: 1960-onwards

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What are the arts and crafts of Kazakhstan?

The arts and crafts of Kazakhstan are a reflection of the country's rich history and cultural diversity. Ceramics, jewellery making, embroidery, rug and carpet-making, casting of tin and bronze, wood carving, weaving and leather work were among Kazakhstan's most popular decorative arts and crafts.

What is the importance of the petroglyphs of Kazakhstan?

The Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tanbaly keep their primary scientific meaning and values for researchers. The rock paintings on the walls of cliffs are the most ancient form of art not only in Kazakhstan but also in all of Central Asia.

What is Kazakhstan's art?

Kazakhstan's art is often representational, depicting scenes from everyday life and Kazakh history. Many abstract and experimental works of art are produced in Kazakhstan. Traditional Kazakh folk art includes ceramics, woodcarving, textiles, and jewellery. The 1990s saw a revival of traditional arts and contemporary art movements.

Kazakhstan's art scene is growing and becoming more popular all the time. If you are interested in purchasing or exhibiting Kazakh art, please get in touch with us for more information. We would be happy to help you get started on your collection or put you in touch with some of the best artists in the country.

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