Accepted Papers:

Russian Esoteric Artists in Central Asia: Deportees and Refugees  


Alexey Ulko

Paper Short Abstract:

Paper long abstract:

The proposed paper is based on the current project The Other East supported by the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow). It focuses on the role of Central Asia for the development of esoterically inspired art, literature and music, the fate of esoteric artists living in Central Asia in the 20th century and their artistic and literary works.

My research is informed by two distinct methodologies, namely Post-colonial and Anthroposophical.

The choice of the former was made in the context of difficulties of applying post-colonial discourse to the relationship between Russia and its (former) Central Asian colonies. Since the last third of the 19th century, Central Asia has played the role of 'the Other' for the Russian Empire, the USSR and the Russian Federation. This role is rarely subjected to post-colonial (or decolonial) criticism, in particular, in the field of art and the proposed paper addresses this issue.

My interest in Anthroposophical methods of research arises from the need to generate alternative meanings outside the traditional materialistic or postmodern discourses. Not only was Anthroposophy an important element of European and Russian cultures of the early 20th century, but it is also 'a scientific study of the spiritual world that seeks to overcome one-sidedness of materialism and ordinary mysticism' (Rudolf Steiner).

In this paper, I will discuss the life and work of several esoterically-inspired artists who lived in Central Asia from the 1920s to 1950s, mostly as political exiles or refugees. For the poet Maximilian Voloshin, a year spent in Turkestan (1900) marked his 'spiritual birth', whereas for Elena Vasilieva deportation to Tashkent marked a tragic end to her spiritual quest and physical life in 1928. The Anthroposophist Boris Lehman was deported to Almaty in 1926 where he worked as a musicologist and conductor. Other esoteric artists who spend years of their life in exile in Central Asia include Vladimir Sterligov, Isaak Itkind, Fedor Rostopichin, Rimma Nikolaeva, while the circle of 'Samarkand Pre-Raphaelites' (Daniil Stepanov, Alexey Isupov as well as Usto Mumin) seem to have sought recluse in Turkestan and inspiration in Sufism.

The post-colonial optics help to deconstruct the purely colonial perception of Central Asia as 'exotic East' as well as the ideological suppression of the esoteric artists' 'anti-Soviet' ideology and practices. The search for evidence of their esoteric experiences suggest that these were more common than was previously thought.

panel CUL-04
Expression and Conciousness