Accepted Paper:

Aestheticizing Kazakhstani Futures: The Place of Children in Space-Age Landscapes  


Meghanne Barker (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Paper short abstract:

In imagining national futures through architecture, public art, or propaganda, states often employ seemingly divergent aesthetic tendencies: space-age futurism versus children's bubbly cuteness. This paper examines the aesthetics of futurity within urban landscapes of contemporary Kazakhstan.

Paper long abstract:

State aesthetics often point populaces towards collective aspirations, with futuristic aesthetics inviting citizens to imagine and anticipate realization and actualization. At the end of the twentieth century, Buck-Morss notes the "passing of mass dreamworlds," followed by a "new atmosphere of cynicism" (2000:276). However, Kazakhstan offers an example of continued aestheticization of aspiration: the new capital city of Astana's striking architecture in the middle of the steppe have dominated discussions of Kazakhstan's aesthetic regime, garnering descriptors such as "space-age" and "sci-fi" from Western visitors, while leaving locals feeling left behind (Bissenova 2013, Koch 2014, Laszczkowski 2013). Another aspect of the ideologies and imagery surrounding Kazakhstani futures - one that has received less attention - holds up children as the future of Kazakhstan. Children not only feature in political billboards with President Nazarbayev in designated places such as schools and libraries, but, moreover, images of and by children appear throughout urban public spaces. How do these seemingly divergent aesthetic tendencies - the shiny, sleek lines of futurism and the cuteness of childhood - come together, sit in tension, or compete with one another? How do children experience them? This paper explores public aesthetics of childhood and futurity in contemporary Kazakhstan, drawing from long-term fieldwork in Almaty, along with examining the place of childhood in the 2017 World Expo in Astana, themed "Future Energies." Understanding the public place of childhood in urban, futuristic landscapes, I argue, helps us to understand broader aesthetic projects of state modernization and anticipation.

Panel P065
The state of the art: the anthropology of art and the anthropology of the state