Slavs and Tatars

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Slavs and Tatars is an art collective and "a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia".[1] Founded in 2006, the group’s work is centered on three activities: exhibitions, books and lecture performances.

History and Work[edit]

The collective's work is based on three activities: exhibitions, publications, and performance-lectures.

Their exhibitions often take place in the public sphere: via public space, institutions or media. The artists came to prominence with their "Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz" at the 10th Sharjah Biennial, offering shade in the form of colorfully, stitched banners with creolized slogans from the Iranian Revolution and Poland's Solidarność movement, such as "Help the Militia, Beat Yourself Up!" The installation featured a rare "interaction of the traditional with the political, the playful manipulations of language and patterns, and the invitation for dialogue through the seduction of the space and the rituals. The green space glowing with reflections of neon lights flickering in the mirror mosaics offered an alternative space for contemplation." [2]

The collective has worked on primarily three cycles of work: the first, a celebration of complexity in the Caucasus (Kidnapping Mountains, Molla Nasreddin, Hymns of No Resistance); the second, on the unlikely heritage between Poland and Iran (Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz, 79.89.09, A Monobrow Manifesto) and their third and current cycle, The Faculty of Substitution, on mystical protest and the revolutionary role of the sacred and syncretic. This new body of work includes contributions to group exhibitions–Reverse Joy at the GfZK,[3] Leipzig, PrayWay at the New Museum's 2nd Triennial,[4] "The Ungovernables",[5] and 7th Asia Pacific Triennial–as well as solo engagements with Not Moscow Not Mecca at the Vienna Secession,[6] Khhhhhhh at Moravia Gallery,[7] Brno and Beyonsense at MoMA as part of the museum's Projects series.[8] Beyonsense, the collective's first solo museum presentation in the U.S., featured a black-lit reading room as well as a reconstruction of a little-known Dan Flavin work commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation for a Sufi mosque in New York's SoHo in the early 1980s.


Slavs and Tatars has published several books which incorporate archival and experimental research, texts, original pieces, and innovative design.

Kidnapping Mountains (2009, Book Works): on the Caucauses.

Love Me, Love Me Not: Changed Names (2010, JRP-Ringier). An inventory and mapping of the names of 150 cities across Eurasia.

Slavs and Tatars Presents Molla Nasreddin: the magazine that would've, could've, should've (2011) on the early 20th-century Azeri political satire Molla Nasraddin with Christoph Keller Editions editions. The book received favourable reviews from the international press, including The New Yorker,[9] Guardian, [10] Asian Review of Books,[11] and the Turkish daily Radikal.[12] Don J Cohen writes "[I]n the wonderfully reproduced color illustrations in this book...a range of subject matter [is] presented: landlords and peasants, marriage and class, women's rights and education, interethnic group rivalries, the Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, sacred and secular, Muslims and Christians. Editorial commentary and translations of the actual captions from the five languages that appear in the texts-Azeri Turkish, Russian, Persian, Istanbulli Turkish and Arabic-go part of the way to educate the reader; but many of the subscribers to the magazine were illiterate. As intended, the pictures tell the rest of the story most convincingly." [13]

Not Moscow Not Mecca (2012, Revolver/Secession): the story of syncretism and Central Asia’s particularly progressive approach to Islam from the perspective of the region's fruits including The Mulberry, The Watermelon, The Quince, and The Cucumber, among others. The book includes an interview with the collective by Franz Thalmair, critic and curator, as well as a chapter from Norman O. Brown's Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (1991, University of California Press), a reading of the Qu'ran thru Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

Khhhhhhh (2012, Mousse/Moravian Gallery): through the perspective of single phoneme [Kh] in Hebrew, Arabic, and Cyrillic, Slavs and Tatars tell the story of sacred or numinous language, Khlebnikov, hospitality, amongst others.

Friendship of Nations (2013, Book Works and Sharjah Art Foundation): Beginning as an investigation into the apparently disparate events that bookend the twentieth and twenty-first century – the collapse of Communism and the Islamic Revolution in Iran – Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz traces unlikely points of convergence in Iran and Poland’s economic, social, political, religious and cultural histories. Drawing on Slavs and Tatars’ multi-disciplinary practice encompassing research, installations, lecture-performances and print media, this publication embraces new contributions in the form of essays, interviews, and archival presentation on subjects that range from seventeenth-century Sarmatism to the twenty-first-century Green Movement, taking in along the way, tales of the Polish Exodus, Wojtek the bear, craft, hospitality, Passion plays and taziyeh, and the political lessons of a Polish slow burn revolution for contemporary Iran.

Naughty Nasals (2014, Galeria Arsenał, Białystok): The second volume in their Long Legged Linguistics work, "Naughty Nasals" follows in the footsteps of "Khhhhhhh" by looking beyond the tongue and identifying this time nose and nasal phonemes (as opposed to the fricative favorites of the throat) a site of resistance to the empire-building enterprise that are alphabets.

Mirrors for Princes (2015, JRP-Ringier and NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery)


"Humor, and its potential to offer a seductive form of critique, allows them to introduce their arcane subject matter to a broad international audience, and move beyond the weary rhetoric of identity politics and postcolonialism," writes HG Masters of ArtAsiaPacific. [14] Slavs and Tatars has been described by Holland Cotter of The New York Times as "a publishing concern...with a worthy mission (to focus on multicultural Eurasia)"[15] and Shaun Walker in Fantastic Man calls it "an ambitious project that aims to look at the Eurasian region as a whole."[16] Bidoun Magazine says that for Slavs and Tatars "geography becomes a metaphor for something bigger, something unwieldy—lost histories, accidents, oversights, mistakes. Geography can also be a provocation, an occasion to think again." In an article in Artforum, Nicholas Cullinan writes that the group is "the most cosmopolitan of collectives, where a geopolitics of globe-trotting allows their shape-shifting projects and concerns to continuously cross-pollinate divergent, and sometimes diametrically opposed, cultural specificities."[17]

Their work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate Modern, London; Sharjah Art Foundation; Wrocław Contemporary Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw amongst others.


  1. ^ Slavs and Tatars. Kidnapping Mountains (London: Book Works, 2009)
  2. ^ Hemami, Taraneh. "Tracing the plot," SF MoMA blog (April 19, 2011).
  3. ^
  4. ^ "'The Ungovernables' - Slide Show -". Retrieved 2015-06-12. 
  5. ^ "The Ungovernables". Retrieved 2015-06-12. 
  6. ^ "secession". Retrieved 2015-06-12. 
  7. ^ "The Moravian Gallery in Brno - Khhhhhhh – Slavs and Tatars". Retrieved 2015-06-12. 
  8. ^ "MoMA - Projects". Retrieved 2015-06-12. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^!
  12. ^
  13. ^ Cohen, Don J. "Molla Nasreddin: a review," Asia Art Pacific (2011: 75).
  14. ^ Masters, HG. "Collective Eclecticism," Asia Art Pacific (2011: 75).
  15. ^ Cotter, Holland. "Art between Covers," New York Times, September 29, 2006.
  16. ^ Walker, Shaun. "The Expatriate," Fantastic Man (2009: 9).
  17. ^ Cullinan, Nicholas. "Group Think," "Art Forum" (2011: 6)

External links[edit]