I may have maxed out my culture-quota for the month. Operas, ballets, and now a visit to the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan! Reed and I finally meandered over to the museum this weekend after repeatedly postponing it for over a month (life happens). I’ve driven past the museum a few times and it looked impressive from the front. On our visit, we approached from the side and could truly see how monstrous this building actually is! And as with most museums in the world, I’m guessing much of their collections are in storage.
The building itself is very modern. We took the eco-friendly escalators, which only operate when they sense someone approaching, to the top and worked our way down. Each landing had a wall of hydroponic plants and/or a colorful mural depicting a scene from the history of Kazakhstan. At the very tip-top of the museum is a room called the “Decorative Arts Room” (or something like that). It housed elaborately decorated weapons, primarily swords and daggers, made in Kazakhstan from as early as the Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC) and some imported through trade from both the east and west. The other main attractions are the wool rugs, primarily red, with brightly colored details.
The next floor down is dedicated to contemporary art and seems to contain rotating exhibitions rather than permanent collections. This was perhaps my least favorite floor. There was a landscape artist, whose work was lovely, lots of beautiful pastel colors. There was another artist, Sergey Maslov, for whom I just didn’t care; he did not seem to have technical skills and it seemed like he was copying a bunch of different styles until he found something he liked. Meh.
Down another floor and we finally start getting into some history! We have the “Hall of Independent Kazakhstan,” their history since becoming a sovereign nation in the early 1990s, the “Hall of History IV-XX Centuries,” which contains their nomadic and soviet history and a small section on modern mining technology in the country, and my favorite, the “Hall of Ethnography,” which features 18th-20th century material culture and costumes all from the nomadic cultures of the Steppes. I got a taste of traditional garb when I saw the opera Abai, but this allowed me to examine them up close and to really appreciate the details – on many of the women’s garments, each cuff is elaborately embroidered as is the dress hem. A lot of heavy metal jewelry accompanied many of the costumes as well. The room also had traditional instruments, horse equipment, and implements for everyday living.
Finally we made it to the rooms we came for – the “Hall of Ancient and Medieval History,” aka, archaeology!, and the “Hall of Gold.” The former started with Paleolithic and Neolithic materials from across Kazakhstan, primarily stone tools and bones from megafauna. The Bronze Age and Iron Age materials were fantastic! The ceramics were beautifully decorated, there was a lot of rock art (images carved or pecked into stone), large metal vessels, a lot of personal adornment, and some really elaborate metal lamps. They displayed objects from the early to late Medieval periods showing the extent of trade along the Silk Road – pretty neat, but not as interesting for me as the prehistoric materials, I won’t even pretend to hid my bias. The rooms filled with gold contain materials from the burial mounds of elite chieftains. While many marveled at the beautiful and new looking gold ornaments and details, I was equally impressed with the preservation of carved wood animal representations, which were then covered with gold foil. The wealth of these burials was over the top; even the horses were bedecked in gold details! I wrote down a list of archaeological site names. As I have free time, I hope to read about these a bit more and perhaps start presenting some of these to you.
The main floor has a room called the “Hall of Astana,” dedicated to the history and development of the capital. I was pretty wiped out, and since I figured I’ll be back to the museum with visitors at some point, I only took a quick glance and started thinking about lunch.