Artist in Kyrgyzstan Using Coffee to Express Kyrgyz Identity

Nurlan draws inspiration from Kyrgyz culture and designs, which are reflected in his artwork. Photo by Toby A. Cox

Coffee is a powerful force in human history – it unites people, transcends cultures, and kindles the imagination.

A cup of coffee is a cup of inspiration. For centuries, coffee has been used as a tool to invigorate the mind and inflame creativity. As a result, coffee and art are closely linked.

Although they seem to be profoundly intertwined, the relationship between coffee and art has typically been viewed as one where coffee is a part of the artistic process (giving the weary artist the jolt of creative energy s/he needs), but is not typically part of the product itself. Bishkek artist, Nurlan, however, closed this gap and gave coffee a more prominent role in his art when he began to experiment with using coffee as a medium.

“I worked at a coffee shop for 4 years, making Lattes, Americanos, and Cappuccinos. I thought, ‘why not try?’ Coffee and paints have similar consistencies. Initially, I attempted to paint with Espresso, however, Espresso did not come out bright enough and it was difficult to manipulate. Then, I tried with instant coffee (Nescafe) and it worked perfectly! I could create different tones and my pictures turned out brighter. For example, if I want light tones, I add more water and add more coffee if I want the color to be darker,” said Nurlan.

A young dancer in traditional Kyrgyz dress. Artwork by Nurlan Duishobevok.

Nurlan mixes coffee and art to create portrayals of life in Kyrgyzstan. His artwork focuses heavily on the beauty around Kyrgyzstan in both nature and traditional Kyrgyz designs. He is inspired by Kyrgyz culture and by his feelings of patriotism.

Currently, he is working on a series that addresses the flow of people emigrating, or wanting to emigrate, from Kyrgyzstan. Most often, people from Kyrgyzstan go to Russia, Turkey, or Kazakhstan to study or to find work to support their families, but also sometimes go to Germany, the United States, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates, to name a few. In many of these cases, those who emigrate do so because they do not have a choice, given the high unemployment rates in Kyrgyzstan. But to those who do emigrate, whether by choice or not, Nurlan has a question: would you ever come back?

“There will be around 20 pictures in this series. When I am done with all of them, I want [Kyrgyz] people to answer for themselves whether they would come back to Kyrgyzstan. Would they come back to Kyrgyzstan despite having a good job, high salary, nice house, and a family in a foreign country?”

 

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The series follows the life of a boy, whose parents left Kyrgyzstan, but decided to return to their homeland. Nurlan draws him in different stages of his life, visiting different parts of Kyrgyzstan showing the beauty of the country.

“I want people to be aware that we have so many amazing places in Kyrgyzstan,” said Nurlan, “There is no need for Kyrgyz citizens to leave their country. This series [was partly born of] feelings of patriotism.”

Nurlan, 25, grew up in Bishkek. His dad was also an artist and was an instructor at the Art Academy in Bishkek.

“He [my father] taught me drawing and painting. Sometimes he would bring his unfinished works home and we would work on them together,” recalled Nurlan.

When he was younger, Nurlan’s art was inspired by cartoons, but now, he says his culture inspires his artwork, as well as the work of Kyrgyz author Chyngyz Aitmatov.

Chyngyz Aitmatov, A revered Kyrgyz writer and a source of inspiration for nurlan. Artwork by Nurlan Duishobekov.

“I am inspired by Kyrgyz traditions, places, clothes, and ornaments,” said Nurlan, “I want more people to see beautiful things about Kyrgyzstan.”

For Nurlan, Kyrgyzstan is his homeland, the only place he would ever belong. He values his Kyrgyz identity and the community that comes with it.

“To be Kyrgyz means that there are people who care about you. There are places where your family and friends are waiting for you. It is all about people who support you,” said Nurlan. “I value people who support me, who care about me. Everyone living abroad misses their motherland and their friends and family.”

Photo by Toby A. Cox

Nurlan currently resides in Bishkek, working full time as a web developer. In his spare time, he continues to work on his series, while also holding coffee art workshops at cafes and schools around Bishkek. In the future, he hopes to showcase more of his work in galleries and is currently submitting his artwork in The Coffee Art Project, a high-profile art competition, with the aim of sharing Kyrgyz culture with more people around the work through art. You can follow his progress and see more of his coffee art by following him on Instagram @nurlanduishobekov. 

 

Human Journey

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Toby A. Cox is a 2017-2018 Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow exploring the story of Islam and religious identity in Kyrgyzstan. She will spend the next 9 months conducting interviews in all seven regions of the country, gathering stories on how the Kyrgyz people perceive the role of Islam and Islamic values in Kyrgyz culture. Through this fellowship, Toby aims to learn more about how Kyrgyzstan’s history has impacted the religious identity of individuals and the multidimensional Kyrgyz identity. She will use writing, videos, photos, and maps to offer insight into the religious landscape of Kyrgyzstan, simultaneously shedding light onto the diversity of Muslim identity. Toby studied Foreign Affairs and Middle Eastern Languages at the University of Virginia and is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Jordan and Kyrgyzstan.