Her Dagestan: Taus Makhacheva

Stephanie Ball in AsiaPacificArt:

ArtIn Taus Makhacheva’s three-minute video Walk (2010), a jagged cliff zigzags across the frame producing a line of perspective. Three points demarcate the division between the ocher earth and a brilliant blue sky, and a figure in black comes into view walking at a steady pace, bisecting the landscape. This same dark figure features in another work, Endeavour (2010), which was filmed on the same day. In this piece, the performing body throws its weight against a boulder that has been hanging over the Dagestani village of Tsada for centuries. It is a romantic, existentialist work, executed with precision by an artist with a steady eye on her native country and the changes that have been taking place there over the past decade. Yet, beyond Dagestan’s literal highs and lows—its mountains, plateaus and crevasses—Makhacheva’s examinations also look at the very structure of Caucasian society. In both aforementioned works, she draws upon a compositional trope long associated with the Caucasus region—the lone figure in the mountains, representative of humanity’s coexistence with the forces of nature. But, despite the focus on landscape in much of her work, Makhacheva explains that her videos hint more at “the way we don’t relate to the landscape anymore.” And this is where Makhacheva’s subtle agitation lies. As an artist whose intentions are to illuminate things we often overlook, her aim is to uncover the historical, cultural and, above all, personal layers that constitute the world around her.

That Makhacheva’s grandfather was Rasul Gamzatov, the most famous poet of Dagestan and son of Gamzat Tsadasa, the eminent Soviet Avar poet, has inevitably had an impact on her work. Also feeding into her practice is her dual Russian-Dagestani identity and her Western education. Makhacheva graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College in 2007 and studied at Moscow’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2009. Recently, she completed her Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art, London. This background has no doubt inspired an approach that attempts to reconcile the contemporary with the nostalgic, the local with the global. “I do have this romantic notion that I have to work with my context, geographical or cultural,” she admits.

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