Kazakhstan's "Nomads and Networks" exhibition arrives in Washington D.C.

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WASHINGTON, DC. August 15. KAZINFORM The first U.S. exhibition devoted entirely to the nomadic culture of ancient Kazakhstan makes its Washington, D.C., debut at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on Saturday, August 11, 2012. The event is being organized by the Kazakh Embassy in Washington D.C. and the Sackler Gallery.

The "Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan" exhibition will remain on display through Nov. 12, and is aimed at dispelling the misplaced notion that nomadic societies were less developed than sedentary ones. More than 150 objects of gold, horn, precious gems and organic materials -- mostly excavated within the past 15 years -- reveal a powerful and highly developed culture with strategic migratory routes and sophisticated networks of communication, trade and exchange, the special issue of the Kazakh Embassy in Washington D.C. reads.

On this happy occasion, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the U.S., Erlan Idrissov said, "because of successful cooperation with our partners, we are able to offer our American friends the beauty, elegance and sophistication of the work done by my Kazakh ancestors who made such a great, yet unsung contribution to the development of civilization."

"The topic of nomads and 'networkers' has special relevance to Washington, D.C.," said Alexander Nagel, Curator of Ancient Near Eastern Art at Sackler's Freer Gallery of Art. "Washingtonians are by nature nomads who are travelling through the city for a limited period of time, but rely heavily on personal and commercial networks every day, giving the exhibition a unique connection to D.C."
For more than three millennia, nomadic societies helped to shape the cultural landscape of the Eurasian steppe. In southern and eastern Kazakhstan, carefully determined migratory routes traced paths between lowland pastures, used in the winter, and alpine highlands, occupied during the warmer summer months. "Nomads and Networks" explores a form of Eurasian nomadism centered on an elite culture of horseback warfare.

While not fully developed until the Iron Age, this unique way of life spread quickly across the Eurasian steppe, yielding the magnificent objects on display in the exhibition. On loan from Kazakhstan's four national museums, the exhibition offers insight into the lives of the people of the Altai and Tianshan Mountain regions in the eastern part of the country from roughly the eighth to the first centuries BCE.

"The works on display represent the highlights and great achievements of Kazakh archaeology," said Nagel. "The increasing frequency and sophistication of scientific excavations in the area allow archaeologists to reconstruct nomadic life in far greater detail than ever before. Still, we are only just beginning to understand these fascinating and complex societies."

"Nomads and Networks" presents spectacular, superbly preserved finds from Berel, an elite burial site of the Pazyryk culture located near the border with Russia, Mongolia and China, where permafrost conditions enabled the natural preservation of rare organic materials. Set amidst vast green grasslands in a visually stunning landscape, the burial mounds -- or "kurgans" -- have yielded hundreds of finds that give archaeologists and laypersons alike unique insight into the long-hidden culture. Each excavated kurgan contained at least one horse, sometimes many more, and the exhibition illuminates the central role of the animal in Pazyryk culture. Through remarkable works of art, visitors encounter a people fascinated by their encounters with nature and animals.

Among the many spectacular objects are bronze stands, superbly decorated with horse and rider figurines, carved stone markers - or "stelai" - that were laid at important places in the landscape, as well as dazzling gold adornments that signified the elevated social status of those who wore or were buried with them.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Exhibition hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except December 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metro Station on the Blue and Orange lines.

The exhibition is one of many joint projects undertaken by the Kazakh Embassy and Smithsonian Institution. In particular, Kazakhstan Festival in 2010 was an outstanding event, featuring performances by Youth Jazz Band of the Kazakh National Academy of Music, Presidential Folk Orchestra and Ulytau Kazakh Folk and Rock Bands. Another highly successful event is an ongoing online exhibition project "Discover Kazakhstan: The Expedition of Chokan Valikhanov" which began in 2010, coinciding with the 175th anniversary of Valikhanov, who is regarded as the "father of Kazakh historiography and ethnography." Valikhanov studied the cultural history of the Kazakhs and other Turkic peoples of Central Asia.

The "Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan" was previously held in New York, from March 7, 2012 - June 3, 2012. That exhibition was organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University in collaboration with the Central State Museum in Almaty, the Presidential Center of Culture in Astana, the A. Kh. Margulan Institute of Archaeology in Almaty, the Museum of Archaeology in Almaty, and the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United States. The New York exhibition was made possible through the support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

Honorary Los Angeles Consul Steven-Charles Jaffe and his partner at Helix Films production company, Ms. Gaukhar Noortas, helped to organize the initial trip of ISAW representatives to Kazakhstan and facilitated their meetings with Ministry of Culture officials, heads of major Kazakh museums and archeologists in Kazakhstan.

For more information on the exhibition, the public may visit www.kazakhembus.com and www.asia.si.edu .

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