CASI RESEARCH SEMINAR: “The Symbolic Landscape of Bishkek: Visual Nationalism and Collective Memory in Public Art”

CASI RESEARCH SEMINAR: “The Symbolic Landscape of Bishkek: Visual Nationalism and Collective Memory in Public Art”

November 1, 2017

SPEAKER: Moira O’Shea, University of Chicago

Abstract: This presentation explores the perception of public art in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan through the lenses of collective memory, nationalism, and sociology. Using both Pierre Nora’s concepts of lieux de memoire (places of memory) and Lefebvre’s ideas of the subjective construction of space, I investigate pieces of public art in Bishkek as evocative of history and memory, as dynamic sites in which memory practices occur, elucidating the various relationships denizens of Bishkek have to pieces of art with varying historical symbols. As a successor state of the Soviet Union, Bishkek is singular in its level of preservation of Soviet statuary in prominent public places. However, there is also a plethora of new, specifically Kyrgyz public art, making Bishkek a unique space in which to investigate how public art can exist as object of history and object of memory. Through interviews I show how these public works of art are perceived; exploring how the memory of certain pasts as symbolized by these works contributes to a both senses of a shared identity and a sense of break. By focusing on the monuments of Bishkek’s central square, which has been home successively to three historically significant monuments: Lenin, Erkindik, and now Manas, I hope to add to the literature of materialism within collective memory as well as to the growing field of visual and material sociology.

Bio: Moira O’Shea is a doctoral student in Sociology at the University of Chicago. Moira is in Bishkek on a Fulbright grant working on research that will be the basis of her doctoral thesis. Her research focuses on the intersection of politics, memory, and public art. In Bishkek, Moira’s research focuses on the way in which public art is produced and the narratives that are involved in decision-making processes surrounding the installation and removal of statuary, as well as the way these projects are perceived and interpreted by denizens of the city.

Moira has a M.A. in Social and Cultural Foundations of Education from DePaul University, Chicago, USA, and a B.A. in Philosophy and History of Math and Science from St. John’s College, Maryland, USA.


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