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Visual art has existed in the territory of Kazakhstan in the form of rock drawings, or petroglyphs since the Neolithic Age, but the modern form of artistic painting is relatively young in Kazakhstan. The Kasteyev State Museum of Art in Almaty offers a comprehensive and very impressive overview of works by Kazakh painters (as well as sculptors) from the 19th Century to today.

The realistic works of the master Ablaikhan Kasteyev (1904-1973) show a country full of contradictions. They include early pieces such as the light and whimsical portrait of folk minstrel Zhambyl, and the image of a crowd at the natural ice-skating rink of Medeu, to a panorama showing the construction of the Turksib railway through the steppe, and the construction of a dam on the Ili River at Kapshagay-more serious works undertaken to illustrate the progress of Russian "civilization" of the Kazakh homeland. What Kasteyev s works all have in common is a high level of drawing precision. For 40 years, Kasteyev accompanied the development of Kazakhstan with his paintings.

Many paintings from the 1940s and early 1950s can be described as "socialist euphoria Painters like Bortnikov were forced to glorify Soviet power. The national themes persisted, but euphoria disappeared as the 1950s wore on. After the ideological reckoning of Stalinism had been settled, the arts were also engaged in efforts to find an identity of their own. Works of people like Telzhanov, Shayakhmetov and Ismailova show a cautious trend awa\ from uniform ideological positions.

The 1960s and 70s generated a huge variety of both critical and less critical social- realist paintings. A wonderful example is the painting Prazdnichiy dyen (Festivity Day) by Aralhayev, which hangs in the Kasteyev State Museum of Art. During the 1980s, realism went over the top, and paintings could be described as "satirical realism" (the paintings of Aliyev should be mentioned in this context). In addition, two Kazakh sculptors, whose expressive works catch the attention, have boosted the appeal of this form in the country. The first is Rakhmanov, whose work is also exhibited in the Kasteyev Museum, and the second is Shokan Tolesh who creates small, emotional bronze and stone sculptures.

A wide variety of artistic schools and trends coexist in independent Kazakhstan. From Picturesque landscapes and political portraits to mysticized historic and national themes, often shrouded in veils of oil and chalk, from surrealistic representations of a changing world to still lifes-anything can be found. A good place to look into modern visual arts is the Tengri-Umay gallery in Almaty. In 2002 the highly motivated staff of this gallery organized the Kazakh artistic biennale of the same name. What strikes one in the paintings of most Kazakh artists is their colourfulness: the magic of their strong, warm, earthy colours ls enchanting.