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Svetlana Batyreva, The Life and Work of Garya Rokchinskiy

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Terbish, Baasanjav 
Churyumova, Elvira 


Svetlana talks about her father, the famous Kalmyk artist Garya Rokchinskiy. In 1939 my father participated in a contest of Pushkin’s drawings which he won. The prize was a bicycle, which was so rare at that time that all the boys in the vicinity ran after him. This was also a time when Kalmyk autonomy was established, which was to be followed by exile and post-exile periods. After exile, when Kalmyk ASSR was restored, my father returned to Kalmykia. By 1961 my father was a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR, had done a solo exhibition in Alma-Ata and participated in exhibitions in Moscow. By that time he was already well known in Kazakhstan where he had graduated from an art school with honors. Because of his status as an exiled person, he was denied a diploma with distinction. During the war many art institutes in Moscow and St. Petersburg were relocated along with teaching staff to other parts of the USSR, including Kazakhstan. Many of my father’s professors, who were from Moscow and St Petersburg, acknowledged his talent. In Kazakhstan my father honed his skills. There he went on trips to the mountains. There he found his style, which is close to impressionism, with his extraordinary color vision and the ability to convey colors in strokes. When he said that he wanted to return to Kalmykia, in Kazakhstan they did not want to let him go. My father had a wish to see Kalmykia restored. There were many problems then as there are today with the Kalmyk language, which is the consequence of exile. In Kalmykia they had a task to create fine arts, and my father became the founder of modern Kalmyk art. He has a painting titled ‘Mother – my native land’, which he dedicated to his grandmother who lived 95 years and accepted Buddhist vows (she did not eat meat, didn’t lie, prayed). He did not invent anything, but depicted his grandmother as she was. In the painting she is an elderly Kalmyk woman with an uncovered head, walking, dressed in a Kalmyk dress, holds a rosary in her right hand. She emanates strength, will, but at the same time, femininity and signs of a hard life. She survived war and exile. There is also a lot of sunlight in the picture and a sense of harmony between a human being and nature. She represents an archaic vertical of the world tree. The axis of the world is found in this image. There are no representations of suffering in the picture, but simply an elderly Kalmyk woman walking through her native land. We see a figurative embodiment of one’s homeland in this painting. As an artist my father took a lot of inspiration from life. He even had his own vocabulary. One winter was exceptionally cold and as a result many animals died. He said: ‘Such a cold and frost, and the lambs are crying.’ He had a childlike worldview, he saw everything in his own way. My father lived in his own world, in which he felt, created and left his paintings. All of his paintings are devoted to his native land. Driven by his wish to find his identity, he always turned to Dzungaria topic. Before his departure, he used to say, ‘What will become of us?’ I was young then and did not understand what he was talking about, but now I have realized that he was talking about us, the Kalmyks. My father had a desire to restore what had been lost. He knew all Kalmyk traditions well, spoke the Kalmyk language, danced and sang. Once he brought from Ulan-Bator a tape recording of a contest of singers and storytellers of Altai who performed the praise to the Altai Mountain. When he listened to that recording of throat singing, he cried, he felt the power of the ancestral land and our tradition. In his painting of Zaya Pandita one can see the fate of the Kalmyks, a unique people, who had their own script, language, art, dances, costumes. For my father Zaya Pandita represented all these. There is Zaya Pandita’s image, cast in silver in Ulan Bator. My father came up with that image in which he combined two periods of our history - Oirat and Kalmyk. Another painting of my father depicts Eelyan Ovla, a Jangar singer. This picture was an event, according to Soviet art critics. In a state of inspiration and singing, Eelyan Ovla is depicted in the background of the country of Bumba. My father worked on this image for 10 years. The works of Rokchinskiy show his path from realism to abstractionism. There is also a lotus series, which is the result of his trip to the Astrakhan conservation area. By means of the lotus flower the artist engages in thinking about life itself. In the painting, in the foreground there is a white lotus, at the bottom is a lotus bud which is starting to unfold, in the background - a lotus box with seeds. This reflects the philosophy of Buddhism, including the beginning of life, flowering time and departure.



Art, modern art, painting, Garya Rokchinskiy

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Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin