Category Archives: Uncategorized

Trespassing Modernities – Post-Stalinist Soviet Architecture

Lenin Palace, 1970, Almaty, Kazakhstan © Simona Rota
Lenin Palace, 1970, Almaty, Kazakhstan © Simona Rota

Here at Steppe we have a great passion for the Soviet architecture of the Central Asian states. As an expression of the progress of thought, whether state or personal, this architecture is a real eye opener, and is rightly, finally, finding its place in helping to define and deconstruct a very complex time. Frederic Chaubin’s book CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed (reviewed in Steppe 9) brought us wonderful photos of some of the most exotic examples of post-war Soviet architecture across the former republics of the USSR, but in the exhibition ‘Trespassing Modernities’ at Salt Galata in Istanbul,  Georg Schöllhammer delves deeper into the evolution of post-Stalinist Soviet architecture.

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Made in Kazakhstan

I’ve got my two adorable children to thank for entering a children’s store in Almaty and  discovering these covetable rolling animals from Vishnyovii Papa (‘Cherry Papa’) designs, made by local designer Chingiz Shakurov. I am so thrilled to find something so attractive, well-designed, and fun which has been made in Kazakhstan. Such a treat after the endless shipping containers of Chinese plastic in the bazaar.

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Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire

Instructional poem for pigeon-fanciers by Valih Musavi (1788) (c) British Library Board
Instructional poem for pigeon-fanciers by Valih Musavi (1788) (c) British Library Board

There is still time to rush out and see the British Library’s latest Exhibition “Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire”, which closes on April 2nd. It might not, at first sight, appear to be a natural stamping ground for Steppe readers, more interested in the lands further north. However, it goes without saying that the clue is in the name. The Mughal Empire was ultimately sprung from the Mongol and Turkic dynasties of Central Asia, descended from Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Its founder, Babur (1483-1530) was born in Ferghana and briefly ruled in Samarkand, but was forced from his homeland by Uzbek invaders, and ultimately moved his power base to Kabul and then India. Continue reading Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire

Nowruz Mubarak!

A guest post from Audrey Jannin who lives in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Sumalak (photo: J Cleuziou)
Sumalak (photo: J Cleuziou)

Mahbuba lives near the Zelyoni bazaar. Last year, she was responsible for preparing the sumalak for her mahalla (neighborhood). Sumalak is not just a simple brown wheatgerm soup but a recipe which brings together the whole community. After the coldish winter months, Nowruz—the spring holidays, celebrates the beginning of spring and the renewal of life. Sumalak, made from the first fresh green plants of the year, has the power to cleanse your body of its winter lethargy and prepare it for the coming year.

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Nowruz, Astana-style

A guest-blog from Alice Harrison who lives in Astana, Kazakhstan:

Norman Foster's Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Astana (Photo: flickr/M. Ibrayev)
Norman Foster’s Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Astana (Photo: flickr/M. Ibrayev)

It is little more than a week since I saw the ice village and sculptures erected here in Astana for New Year, knocked down – a clear signal that spring is on the way. For some time large-scale tulip decorations and lights have been appearing out of the snow drifts around Astana in preparation for Nowruz, and they are beginning to look a little less incongruous, as the skies are finally blue and the temperature during the day above zero.

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Horsemeat: The Real Deal

Findus ready meals may not have reached Central Asia but there’s undeniably a very close alliance between man and beast in this vast tract of Central Asia.

Horsemeat section, Green Bazaar, Almaty (flickr/sly06)
Horsemeat section, Green Bazaar, Almaty (flickr/sly06)

A Kazakh nomads’ expression states, ‘Kazakhs are born on horseback’. If we take a leisurely canter from nomad life into the present day, we see the survival of horsemeat as a luxurious food in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Whilst on academic business there, I grasped the opportunity to pursue a sober study of this neglected subject. I visited two yamarka (outdoor markets) – one in Almaty, the former capital and largest city; the other 500km north in Stepnogorsk, a former closed Soviet town with notable levels of uranium, rare metals and gold. Continue reading Horsemeat: The Real Deal

Pamir – Forgotten on the Roof of the World

Matthieu Paley is a favourite photographer at Steppe. His work conveys fluidity and an emotional connection with the individuals he captures on film. Which is why we are very excited by the publication of his latest book (co-authored by his wife, Mareile, and anthropologist Ted Callahan) on the Pamir Kyrgyz, whom he has been documenting for the last 10 years. Their daily life takes place against the backdrop of the magnificent Wakhan Corridor in northeastern Afghanistan, and visually it is a compelling subject, touched by an ethereal beauty. Continue reading Pamir – Forgotten on the Roof of the World

White Silk Road

After writing a short blog about the very cool Untamed Borders, James wrote to tell me about a new documentary/adventure film ‘White Silk Road’ which Untamed Borders helped to film and facilitate in Bamiyan. The film tells the story of 3 Australian boarders who travel to Afghanistan to try out some virgin runs. In Bamiyan they meet a group of get-up-and-go locals who have taken to the slopes in gumboots and wooden skis. Soon the Australians (Clint, Nick and Mitch) have them trying out snowboards and expanding their ideas of the possible. If the trailer is anything to go by, this looks like required viewing…


Am I alone in not being able to resist this hedgehog?
Am I alone in not being able to resist this hedgehog?

The lovely Anne-Laure Py, who wrote for us about ikats in Steppe 6, is a social entrepreneur and the founder of Craftspring which injects design ideas into Central Asian crafts and supplies a much needed market for the artisans of the region, focusing predominately on objects made of felt. Every time I see the products they have on offer I want to reach for my credit card and the latest Winter 2012 catalogue is no exception. Right now they only sell wholesale, but there is a long list of stores across the USA that stock their products, so check them out and be beguiled…

Shout Out for Untamed Borders

There are only so many travel companies willing to take you to Afghanistan, but to take you skiing? Definitely countable on the fingers of one hand, that is where Untamed Borders make their mark. A small travel company who organise personalised trips to northern Afghanistan and Pakistan they really know their stuff and will make sure that you come back with the memories reserved for the hardiest and most intrepid of travellers, whilst knowing that you are in good hands. Their itineraries don’t stop at adventure sports either; you think of something you would like to do in northern Afghanistan and they will arrange it and introduce you to a huge array of local colour as you go.