eagle festival #2

the second eagle festival in Ulgii was much larger though not quite as eventful as the first.

The day was spent in large part huddled in tents eating delicious horse meat hussur (which was a much-needed and excellent hangover remedy), drinking beer with kazakhs in parked cars, and as an extended shopping trip (as everyone and their brother was out selling their wares to eager tourists) which of course, was just as exciting for me as any eagle-related event- as i can never get enough of kazakh embroidered products- and luckily i was able to buy 3 wall hangings to sell as a future fundraiser for Daughters Rising.. so if anyone is interested in funding one year of a Karen hill tribe girl’s education AND acquiring an antique hand-embroidered kazakh tapestry… here’s a preview!:


also here are some pics from the festival- including a new event in which men on horseback would gallop at full speed and swoop down sideways from their horse to grab a small red ‘coin’ from the ground.. pretty impressive!

Nick looking extraordinarily dapper in his new hat


Inaa was also there with her adorable granddaughter Isor in tow (my newest little pal):

and of course selling her wares too, including this crazy fur jacket which i just couldn’t help but try on.. :

too bad it’d never make it through an afternoon in new york without being redecorated with red paint…


tugen jer and a goodbye party- kazakh style

second up, is completing at least 2 pieces in a new series i’ve begun called ‘tugan jer’ or ‘homeland’ in kazakh. for this project i’m doing a series of ephemeral installations of kazakh traditional patterning in dirt on walls around Ulgii (using stencils and glue). and i have to say, working outside in a public space here was really interesting and fun! there was a hilarious and near constant stream of people stopping to see what the hell i was doing (sometimes driving by, stopping, backing up, and yelling out the window ‘goy!! goy!’ (“beautiful! beautiful!”)) initially working with clear glue, also gave the thrown dirt a kind of magical effect- with the patterns seeming to appear out of nothing. without fail, each new group of spectators (usually gaggles of kids on their way to school) would gasp in delight when the dirt was initially thrown on. though hands down the best reaction was when one group of little boys stopped to watch, and when i completed one dirt stencil they all simultaneously applauded and said ‘BRAVO!!!” i was so surprised i laughed for a solid 5 minutes. public art is so cool.

so here is the result! :

and some pics from the making.. including groups of my new little friends:

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on a different note, last night Inaa and Kaderbeck invited me and the peace corps folk to a local ger camp for a night of drinking, dancing and eating besbarmuk (the traditional kazakh celebratory dish which translates to ‘five fingers’ as it is supposed to be eaten with your hands) as a kind of goodbye party for me..

as with most kazakh parties, there was a lot of speech-giving involved (people looove long-winded gushy toasts in this culture), circle dancing, and compulsory singing (regardless of anyone’s shy / tone-deafness).. we all ate until we were about to burst and danced until there was not a shred of dignity left in the room. it was a really really nice time. i will miss these folks dearly.

unfortunately, i forgot to take adequate pictures throughout the night.. but i did manage one of the delicious besbarmuk:

and on to the eagle fest tomorrow!!

new product sneak preview

so the past 2 days have begun the mad dash to the finish line for me here in ulgii. with the second eagle festival this weekend, I have less than a week’s worth of working days in which to cram in as much productivity as possible!

first up, was picking up my massive order of beautiful kazakh products I designed for Daughters Risings from the lovely Inaa…

regardless of the fact that my bank account is currently having a massive panic attack.. the work is beautiful and i am so so excited to add these pieces to the RISE up online shop!  unfortunately the products won’t be available for purchase until I get back stateside.. but here is a sneak preview! :

More from the series ‘the shape of kazakh’

This past week has been a whirlwind of studio productivity here in Ulgii. i completed 3 artisan portraits in 2 days (actually 4, but more on that later) thanks to awesome and generous artisan ladies and my 2 lovely new assistants Alban and Ben. Alban hails from Normandy and Ben from Israel, both are traveling through Mongolia for a few months and when i told them about my project they both enthusiastically agreed to be my free labor for the installs!

these portraits were taken in several embroidery/sewing workshops in Ulgii, however as each workshop was shared by 2-3 artisans, there was a bit of confusion as to who would be participating in the actual photos… which meant that after each installation (to my surprise and delight) each woman wanted her picture taken in the installation too! very cool. so, that is the explanation for why there are several photos of each installation, though only one will make it to the final photographic edition for the series.

here is the first workshop and the final of Jangilgan:

…and Nursaily:

…and Jenen:

on to workshop #2 and the final of Kamsakhan:

…and Anargul:

and workshop #3 and the final of Madeniet:

…and Kaisar:

Unfortunately i can’t figure out how to put separate slideshows of the individual workshop installation processes on here…. so here is one massive conglomerative slideshow of the different installs all together… apologies! :

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the fourth portrait (which unfortunately i think will not be included in the series) was a funny but somewhat botched endeavor… Malde, the final artisan i visited, enthusiastically agreed to be in the project, but didn’t have very many embroidered things to work with… resulting in a relatively lack-luster composition. :/ but what the portrait lacked in visuals it more than made up for in experience- Malde thought that the whole process was hilarious, and couldn’t stop laughing hysterically while i was trying to take her photo.. which of course made all of us crack up as well.. until we were all doubled over in hysterics and absolutely unable to be productive. here are some pics of the install:

so that’s it for artwork for the moment… hopefully i’ll complete one more portrait + some other pieces i have in the works before leaving ulgii next week.. stay tuned!


Ulgii eagle festival #1

So this past weekend was the first of 2 eagle festivals out here in western mongolia. the festivals are a yearly chance to showcase traditional kazakh culture and sport, which means that everyone comes clad in their kazakh best (re: an astonishing number of animals needed to die in order to dress the crowd in attendance) for events ranging from mock bride-stealing races to goat carcass tug-o-war on horseback. quite the show, as you could imagine.

my PCV friends Nick, Caitlin, Brian and I were lucky enough to score a ride to the festival from my dear friend and artisan Inaa and her husband Kaderbek. so we headed out in Kaderbek’s russian jeep loaded down with enough beer/ vodka to drown a small village and equally ample apetites for a kazakh cultural experience.

from right to left: brian, caitlin, me and nick

here are some pics from the day:


the first event up was something akin to playing fetch with eagles… though in this case the eagle was taken to the top of a nearby cliff as the eagle’s owner called to it from the valley below and waved a stuffed fox decoy. each hunter was judged by how quickly and accurately the eagles came.. though a few of them were particularly ornery and required a friendly shove off the cliff to get them started.. and preferred to take an ariel tour of the festival grounds (always being sure to swoop dangerously close to groups of small children, making the crowd gasp and scatter) before landing a km or so away and having to be retrieved on horseback by their sheepish owners.

This guy, however:

had quite the rapport with his bird who came right to his arm with little to no coaxing. he, of course, was the undisputed winner.



the second event was the mock bride-stealing ‘race’… i received differing explanations for the origins/ rules of this game, but basically a couple would ride off into the steppe then “race” back to the grounds with the girl whipping both the horse AND the boy (the predominant recipient of the assault usually being the boy) while the boy would attempt to slow his horse down to be even with hers. if the man’s horse won the race, then he ‘lost’ the girl, and if the horses were together at the finish, the girl had to give the boy a kiss. this practice either had origins in Kazakh bride-stealing (on a interesting but less humorous sidenote: here is a stark but fascinating documentary on contemporary bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan) or a Kazakh courtship ritual where, in an attempt to ‘talk’ in privacy (which is complicated in ger lifestyle), a boy would take a girl on a long, slow horseback ride into the steppe. when they were done ‘talking,’ they would race back- the girl whipping the boy/ his horse (softly if she liked him, hard if she didn’t)… though this particular event was further confused because most of the couples seemed already married, and the whipping across the board was quite intense!




The last event of the day was a tug-o-war type game on horseback- but using a decapitated goat carcass in lieu of a rope. the competitions got pretty heated, often breaking out of the designated game area and continuing up (and sometimes over) nearby mountains, or directly into the crowd of spectators, triggering wild stampedes of old Austrians with fancy cameras in either direction.




another great part of the festival was the amount of awesome kazakh textiles/ fur that came out of the woodwork to be sold. by the end of the day even most of the old Austrians were donning authentic fox hats.

Inaa also brought her wares and sold out of the necklaces that we had designed together:

here are some of my favorite textiles of the day:






the post-festival festivities continued with an impromptu debauched dance party (of 6) in Inaa’s kitchen where we consumed a somewhat disturbing quantity of beer/ vodka / cassis (the latter of which they insisted qualified as a ‘wine’ and therefore must be drank straight up) in combination with freshly boiled beef tongue / stomach…

needlesstosay i did not make it to the second day of festivities.

ah well, on to the next festival this weekend!

and more artwork..

here are two of the latest pieces that i’ve made since the roof piece: they were slightly more manageable 😉

Untitled VII (mixed media on paper):



Untitled VIII*: (installation using: contact paper, candy wrappers, fabric, body paint, ribbon, candy, hair, painted horse skull, cardboard, and contact paper)

*a big thanks to Jasmine for acting as model/ muse!


a studio update

so in art project news, before heading west I spent several labor-intensive and slightly frantic days attempting to install a piece which required me to cover a large portion of a nearby roof with mongolian patterning.

the pattern i chose is a traditional mongolian pattern that i love for two main reasons: 1) it’s found everywhere here from silk deel material to bar napkins, and 2) it has hidden swastikas in it!

not wanting to make a permanent installation, i opted to create the pattern pieces from a water-resistant neon orange (of course) fabric. each pattern piece (shaped like the orange i hilited in the above picture) was 8′ x 6′ and there were 110 pieces… which, as you could imagine, required several marathon studio days with my hand-crank sewing machine to complete. it also required several installation attempts as the initial design (in which each pattern piece would be taped to the roof’s surface) was somewhat of a massive failure due to underestimating the roof’s gravely texture which would prove near un-tape-able. as even the slightest bit of wind would send the pieces flying, i rethought the design and decided to add rice-filled bean-bag type pockets to the underside of each piece. luckily, my dear friends Nina, Matt and Alex offered up some love (ie. free labor) to speed up the redesign process, and 150kg of rice later (each piece required 11 bean bags.. 11 x 110 pieces = uugh), more rolls of tape than i care remember and a solemn vow to FINALLY heed my parent’s advice and stop making such friggin huge /labor-intensive/ expensive/ difficult to transport pieces… the project- well, at least the materials for the project- was complete.

due to wind that trumped even the weighted pattern pieces, however, it would take would take two more installation attempts (also keep in mind the entire 150kg of rice-filled pattern pieces had to be schlepped via backpack from my studio up the 5 flights of stairs + ladder and onto the roof) before getting an image anything close to what i had hoped for. but the wind still proved a huge complication, and the resulting wobbliness of the pattern was slightly disappointing…

regardless, a huge thanks to my friends Nina, Taylor, Alex, Matt and Jasmine who helped make this piece possible and my PCV pals: Caitlin, who busted ass with me to finish the third installation (a grueling 4 hour process which our thighs/ asses felt the aftermath of  for days afterwards), and Leo, who, given his paralyzing fear of heights, still graciously volunteered to act as a sherpa.

and… the final image:

the jury is still out on wether or not to do a fourth installation attempt once i’m back in UB.. hopefully this time with a troop of mongolian helpers courtesy of my language tutor and friend Jasmine… we’ll see.