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05 June 2023



The first personal exhibition of Lyazzat Khanim entitled before i leave concluded in Almaty. Held at the Aspan Gallery, the exhibition showcased 24 paintings from her recent body of work. This essay aims to explore what Khanim portrays, how she interacts with the image, how she appears on the canvas, and what she does before leaving.

Kazakhstani contemporary artist Lyazzat Khanim (b. 1994) continues the practices of photorealists, referencing photographs in painting. What surrounds us, the life of things, and their unusual compositions are what attract the Khanim’s eye. Her works depict the global anthropocentric material world through the “Gen-Z” Instagram aesthetics. Through a close look at things, the artist captures and transfers pieces of her daily life to the canvas with the detachment inherent in photography. However, she does not only observe the world around her but also finds herself in it, intervenes at times, changes it, and shows the process. What are the kinds of relationships between the artist and what she portrays?


Lyazzat Khanim / “01.01.2020” / Oil on canvas / 70 x 70 cm / 2020

Lyazzat Khanim / “01.01.2020” / Oil on canvas / 70 x 70 cm / 2020

At first glance at 01.01.2020 (2020), it may seem that something is wrong with the image as if the red chair is about to rise above the ground like a Tibetan monk. Taking a closer look, we realize the chair is broken — the front left leg, barely visible, is dislocated. What does the chair rest on? Is it falling? Either way, its position appears paradoxically balanced, even if it is just for a moment. Against the background of a nondescript interior, it appears as if the chair does not belong there. The rich red upholstery is in impeccable condition, and the metallic arms and legs are shining. Maybe it turned its back because it was ashamed of the disability or vice versa: it finally became free from its function, so it can leave this office and see the world. However we interpret it, 01.01.2020 is a portrait.

Here, the artist acts as a neutral, unbiased observer who happened to catch the moment in a photograph and extend it in painting. A similar approach to depiction we trace in many other works by Khanim such as Scar(2022), Aqtau (2022), antidepressant (2019), WC stands for white chrysanthemums (2022), timeline (2018), etc. Photographic objectivity of an image gives an impression that the author is detached to the extent that almost absent. Thus, primarily Khanim is a documentarian of life of things that seem not to notice her.

Rare people in Lyazzat Khanim’s paintings are also unaware of being portrayed. Both a child on Gen Z (2020) and a person on she/|\|/them (2021) were sitting with their back to the photographer and now to the viewer. Their closed postures speak about privacy and apartness and resemble the posture of the red chair on 01.01.2020.The artist does not give much significance to the distinction between people and things, as they all are parts of life, which Khanim explores as a wildlife photographer.

The only portrayed person who detects her presence is the artist herself.


Lyazzat Khanim / “Landscape” / Oil on canvas / 100 x 100 cm / 2022

Landscape (2022) turns reality inside out. In the center of a green mountain landscape, we see a window that reflects the street view and Lyazzat Khanim herself taking this picture. Notably, the image shows the exterior covered with a printed banner, but what is behind the windowpane is unseen. The only distinguishable switch is keeping the light inside off. As if reality is nailed and Khanim found someone’s observation deck. The outside becomes the inside and vice versa. We are used to seeing landscapes from windows, not windows in landscapes. We are used to seeing what is behind the window, not what is in front of it. The artist breaks these conventional perceptions, showing that photorealism can be surreal and landscapes can also be self-portraits.

Who is watching who? From time to time Lyazzat Khanim finds herself in reflections during photo hunting, the first part of her artistic process. The artist can be also spotted in such works as SELF i.e. (2021), out of service(2022), far/close (2021), etc. Self-portraits including selfies point out a presence of an artist and introduce her as both the subject and the object of depiction. What image and impression does Khanim want to create? We see her in parts, her facial expression is dispassionate, and instead of eyes, we discern the phone aiming at us.

Once Khanim ceases to be a bystander in her paintings, she almost breaks this fourth wall.


“new” / Oil on canvas / 40 x 40 cm / 2022

“anew” / Oil on canvas / 40 x 40 cm / 2022

anew (2022) caught the artist in a reflection of a taping knife spreading white paint over the canvas. Thanks to the photorealistic life-size depiction together with the real white paint usage Khanim creates an optical illusion. What is she doing? Why would a canvas need renovation? As Khanim suggests — to begin anew. In this piece, we see a work process, which resulted in a second part of this diptych called new (2022). Its smooth white surface has already leveled and dried. anew is a trompe l’oeil about the documentation of a process, of the artistic practice itself which is hidden behind the finished work.

Contrary to Sontag's thesis that being a photographer means not taking part, Lyazzat Khanim sometimes documents her artistic practices, where she is the main actor in the captured situation. Showing some first-person experience or “point of view” (POV) is a popular trend on social media. The artist explores this phenomenon in an eponymous self-aware work. This postmodern humor we also notice in strike a pose (2021), where her previous work on the easel is “striking a pose” to be photographed and painted again. Thanks to works like Push the buttons (2020), zero waste (2021), prproj (2021), and ó (2020) we get to know what else Lyazzat Khanim does as an artist.

Khanim also often intervenes in reality and modifies it by adding something alien to it. Usually, she experiments with staged photography such as for the Immunity (2021) series of works, as well as for Wall-mounted first aid kit(2021), Birthday gift (2021), etc. There are even some paintings created by the artist thanks to digital interventions such as Untitled (2020) with green leaves in an ATM. What draws Lyazzat Khanim’s attention is surrealism in the usual state of things, which can be both real and artificial.

A bystander, a self-portraitist, an artist at work, intervening in reality — Lyazzat Khanim appears in different roles in her paintings. These roles, as well as signs of her presence, work, and craft she addressed in her first personal exhibition entitled before i leave.

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