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  • Writer's pictureToby A. Cox

Bishkek Artist Getting to the Root of Kyrgyz Culture

Sky and earth, water and fire, mountains and lakes – All are common themes in early philosophies in (seemingly) unconnected human societies around the world. For the early Kyrgyz people, this philosophy was Tengriism, a philosophy of nomads and connected to the earth.

“Tengriism is a tribute to nature. The relationship between nomads and nature cannot be ignored,” said Dzhumgalbek, a local artist known as Dzhum for short.

Bishkek Artist Dzhum sitting in his workshop
Dzhum in his workshop.

Using many different mediums to express his artistic visions, Dzhum explores the nomadic roots of Kyrgyz culture, though careful not to over-romanticize the life of nomads.

Hunter on horseback
A hunter on horseback, drawn by Dzhum.

“It was a time of wolves; people had to be harsh like warriors,” said Dzhum, “…that is why I draw family values as well as the hard times of nomadic life. At the same time, I show the interdependence between people living within the tribe.”

His drawings depict characters who balance strength with warmth, illustrating the Kyrgyz cultural values still embraced today.

A family in a traditional yurt.
A family in a traditional yurt, drawn by Dzhum.

Dzhum was born in the Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan.

In his village, his family owned a large farm with many cows, sheep, and horses. There was also a river near his childhood home; he explained that many of his favorite childhood memories are connected with this river, such as learning to ride horses with his brothers and learning how to kindle a fire.

He discovered his interest in art early in his childhood and began attending an art boarding school after 3rd grade.

“Since my childhood I felt a connection with art,” he recalled.

For Dzhum, art is a way to express the kinship he feels with nomadic culture, not just limited to Kyrgyz nomadism, but with cultures all over the world that share similar elements.

Drawn by Dzhum

“I can certainly say that drawing nomadic elements are my favorites …. But it is not necessarily connected to only the Kyrgyz people,” explained Dzhum. “All around the world there are many diverse myths and legends that can tell the story of modern times.”

From these myths, tales, and legends from diverse cultures around the world Dzhum finds inspiration.

“Through books and stories I can create my own vision of the heroes … I love Celtic folklore the most and Scandinavian culture and elements. Scandinavian myths, King Arthur I can say that these cultures find a response in my soul. Some elements are the same within these myths.”

Drawn by Dzhum

As for religion, Dzhum says he is not a religious person, but he finds inspiration in Tengriism.

“My ancestors are Muslim but I am not religious. Even though our culture is Muslim we still have remnants of Tengriism,” said Dzhum.

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