Thousands of years ago, an original culture which revered nature was born in the nomadic society in the very centre of Eurasia, within the limitless steppe among high mountains and lakes. It appeared as a result of the merging of the cultures of Mongolian and Turkic people and later it was enriched by elements of Islamic and Persian world-views.
During that period, Kazakhstan did not exist as a state. However, a centuries-old cultural community had already been formed. The term “Kazakh”, which means “free”, appeared later in the 14th – 15th centuries. As a result of a passionate yearning for defining the position of this culture among other cultures, with which they had something in common and at the same time were different, it became necessary to unite many tribes of the steppe into something integral and united on the basis of the similarity of behaviour, language (the Turkic language) and places of residence. So, before the state appeared, a free nomadic culture existed, which was based on the practical knowledge of reality and spiritual concepts in quite difficult conditions of permanent movement in expanse and time.
Later, this highly developed culture with a multilayered structure was enriched with new knowledge and principles, which were typical of a settled lifestyle. The representatives of the nomadic ethnic groups of the steppe were not the exclusive members of this culture since the representatives of other cultures also entered it. Since that moment, the culture has been developing as an original Kazakh one, which maintains the traditions, customs, language, etc. and as a culture of Kazakhstan, which includes the features of numerous nations (more than 130) residing today in the country.
Today, the culture of Kazakhstan represents a complex of aesthetic values of the Kazakh people, conveyed in original and different spiritual and material forms.
As a result of its nature, the culture provides us with the development and enrichment of creative potential and with an individual place in the family of national cultures.
The area of the nomadic culture of the people, their notion of the world and its beauty, the ways and forms of adaptation to nature and climatic conditions of the Great Steppe are embodied in the traditional works of talented craftsmen. The sublime form is the yurt, which is a perfect kind of demountable and portable house, which is carried by horses and camels. The inner and outer decorations of the yurt are embellished with carpets and embroidered things made of felt.
Everyday objects were made of felt, wood, leather and metal.
Clothes. Men’s clothes: velvet chapan, belt with embroidery, skullcap, felt caps.
Women’s clothes: dresses similar to tunics and sleeveless jackets made of cotton, silk and velvet.
Jewellery. Goldsmiths (zergers) used casting, engraving, repousse and chasing, filigree, niello, granulation and enamel when making jewellery of gold and white silver.
The national ornament, which is used in jewellery, is a unique language of the Kazakh people, enriched with deep meaning.
Musical instruments. Music gives voice the soul of the people. Ancient Kazakh musical instruments include the dombra and kobyz (stringed musical instruments played by plucking), the saz-syrnai, which is a clay flute and the sabyzgy, which is a cane flute. Korkyt is the creator of the kobyz and kyuy, a genre of music.
Musicians. Great Kazakh dombra players and Kyuy performers include Asan Kaygy (15th century), Tattimbet, Dauletkerey, and Kurmangazy, among kobyz players there is Ykylas (19th century), and Nurgisa Tlendiyev (20th century).
Folk singers. Great singers include Zhayau Musa, Akan Sere, Amre, Madi, Kenen (19th- 20th centuries) and Shamshi Kaldayakov (20th century).
New genres. World fame has been gained by such composers of the professional school as E Brusilovsky (author of “Kyz Zhibek”, the first national opera), E Rakhmadiyev (the creator of the “symphonic kyuy” genre), virtuosi Zh Aubakirova, pianist, A. Musakhodzhayeva and M Bisengaliyev, who are violinists, E Serkebayev, B Tulegenova, A Dnishev, E Kurmangaliyev, who are opera singers, and R Rymbayeva, a diva. There are three theatres of opera and ballet, a number of symphony orchestras and a great number of folk orchestras and groups in Kazakhstan.
The great steppe was an arena for foreign invasions for many centuries, which led to the destruction of a multitude of medieval towns and architectural objects. Among the objects that remained are the H A Yassaui mausoleum (Turkestan, 14th – 15th centuries), which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Ascension Cathedral in Almaty (1907) is included in the UNESCO monuments list. The Palace of the Republic (Almaty 1970, architect N Ripinsky,) and the Medeu complex (1972, architects V Katzev and A Kainarbayev) are world famous. An “Architectural Renaissance” started in Kazakhstan during the period of its independence. In Astana (the layout by architect K Kurokawa, /1934-2007/, Japan) there were constructed such buildings as the Ak Orda, the Residence of the President of Kazakhstan (K Montakhayev, architect /1950-2009/ Kazakhstan), Water-green boulevard (K Kurokawa), The Palace of Peace and Harmony (Pyramid, 2006), the “Khan Shatyr” centre (2010, architect N Foster, England), the “Kazakhstan” Central Concert Hall (2009, architect M Nicoletti, Italy), the “Nur-Astana” mosque ( 2005, architect Ch Khafiz, Lebanon) and a number of sport complexes built for the 2011 Asian Games.
Folk. For a long period, the Kazakhs have treasured in their hearts, the heroic epics “Koblandy-batyr”, “Yer Targyn”, “Kambar Batyr” as well as lyrical and epic legends “Kyz Zhybek”, “Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan Sulu” and “Yenlik-Kebek”. People have always been delighted with aityses and akyn’s ( Suyunbay, 19th century, Zhambyl, 20th century) poetic competitions.
Written Literature was started by Abai (1845-1904), the thinker, poet, educator and author of “Gakliya” (“Words of Edification”). Abai’s mission was inherited by such democrats of the beginning of the 20th century as A Baitursynov (1873-1938), a poet and reformer of Kazakh writing, who said “I consider words to be the most important art”, M Dulatov (1885-1935), the author of a collection of poetry called “Oyan, Kazakh!” (“Kazakh, Wake up!) and M Zhumabayev (1893-1938), the great poet. Among world famous writers there is M Auezov (1897-1961), the author of the “Abai’s Way” epic novel (1954), I Yesenberlin (1915-1983), the author of the “Nomads” trilogy (1973), M Shahanov, poet and author of the m“Delusion of Civilization” poem (2001), O Suleimenov, a poet, specialist in Turkic philosophy, permanent representative of Kazakhstan in UNESCO and author of “Earth, Bow before a Person!” poem (1961), and the “Az and Ya” essay (1975).
Ancient rock carvings (1st-2nd century BC—8th-9th century AD) remained in some regions of Kazakhstan. The Tamgaly-tas rock carvings (Almaty region) are included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage.
Painting and graphic arts. A Kasteev (1904-73) was the first national professional watercolour painter. N Khludov (1850-1935), his teacher was the author of ethnographically precise romantic paintings about the nomads’ life. The virtuoso landscapes by Zh Shardenov (1927–92); canvases by Tolepbai, the creator of “magic impressionism”, works by S Kalmykov (1891-1967), fantasy artist and “Legend of Almaty” of world importance, graphic works by M Kisamedinov, who glorified Makhambet, the Kazakh baghatur and poet of the 19th century are widely known.
Monumental art. Among the monuments which are considered to be a national inheritance there is the monument to Abai (1960) in Almaty by Kh Nauryzbayev (1925-2009), the first national sculptor, a monument to Ch Valikhanov (1971) in Kokshetau by T Dosmagambetov, a monument to Kenesary Khan (2001) in Astana by N Dalbay, the “Baiterek” monument (2002) by N Foster, “Kazak Yeli” (2008), the first architectural complex in Kazakhstan, which conveys the Kazakh people’s destiny (by a group of sculptures headed by N Dalbai, S Zhunusov and others).
Started in 1926 with the “Yenlik-Kebek” performance based on M Auezov’s play (Kyzylorda). In 1928, the theatre moved to Almaty. Kazakh Theatres appeared in some regional centres in the 1930s. The Russian Drama Theatre was organized in Semipalatinsk in 1933 and later it was transferred to Almaty. The Uigur Theatre was opened there in 1934 and the Korean Theatre was opened in Kyzylorda in 1937. The Puppet Theatre was opened in Almaty in 1935 and the Youth Theatre was opened there in 1944. 1860—1900 is the period of the brilliant performances in the M Auezov Kazakh Drama Theatre (the Theatre Director is A Mambetov, the People’s Artist of the USSR), among them there was “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare. Kh Bukeeva and Sh Aimanov played the parts of Katharina and Petruchio in this performance, “Mother’s Field” by Ch Aitmatov, where S Maikanova played the part of Tolganai and “The Cabal of Hypocrites” by M Bulgakov where N Zhanturin played the part of Moliere.
The Abai Kazakh Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet opened in Almaty in 1934. The first opera in Kazakhstan was performed in 1936. Since then, about 50 operas and ballets have been written. The “Birzhan and Sara” opera by M Tulebayev was the first performance in the K Baiseitova National Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Astana, which is the youngest musical theatre in Kazakhstan. Now there are 50 theatres in Kazakhstan.
“Kazakhfilm” is the only film company in Kazakhstan. It was created in 1960 as part of the Almaty Studio of Newsreels (1934). Now Kazakhstan makes 30-40 feature films, documentaries and cartoons annually.
In 2006, “Kazakhfilm” started the “People’s Choice: Golden Collection of Kazakh Cinema” campaign. Twenty films out of fifty that were chosen by the audience have been restored. The leaders of the rating were “Abai” (A Amirkulov, 1995), “Enemy, be Afraid of the Ninth Son” (V Pusurmanov, V Chugunov, 1984), “Blood and Sweat” (A Mambetov, Y Mastyugin, 1978), “Zhambyl” (E Dzigan, 1955), and “The Legendary Chokan” (A Ashimov, Tsoy Guk In, 1984).
“Kazakhfilm” held “A New Documentary of Kazakhstan” festival dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the independence of Kazakhstan in Almaty in March 2011.
The “I’m 20 Years Old” film about the life of young people who are the same age as the independence of Kazakhstan, made by students of the T Zhurgenev Kazakh National Academy of Art in Almaty, will be of great importance.
There are about 70 states museums in Kazakhstan with exhibitions dedicated to culture, art and literature of Kazakhstan.