Hi Ainura! — Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today. For our readers who aren’t already familiar with you and your work, can you please share with us a bit about yourself and what it is that you do.

My name is Ainura Ashirova Barron and I’m an artist based in St. Charles, MO. I moved to the United States in 2016 to pursue my dream of earning a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. I hold a MFA in Visual Arts from Missouri State University (2019).

My current body of work references my childhood memories and gives me a place to investigate my roots. I’m finding ways to expose the spirit and history of my family. In a way, the work communicates my life passage from the perspective of a person who grew up during the era of the Soviet Union, experiencing Perestroika and Glasnost’ under Gorbachev’s leadership, and who came of age when the Iron Curtain was demolished, bringing an end to the Cold War and giving all us young people at that time a way to approach adulthood. It was challenging and exciting at the same time. The spirit of freedom was in the air and we all believed that we could change the world. Those transformations of ideology and our reality made us stronger and flexible. We all witnessed how the ideology of the Soviet regime and its values collapsed as our lifestyle was breaking apart before our eyes.

I’m finding ways to expose the spirit and history of my family.

As an undergraduate student, I studied arts many years ago. However, the dramatic changes that took place during the early years of Kazakhstan’s independence (my home country) caused me to shift my career aspirations in the direction of art administration and management. I was thus able to gain new perspectives when the borders of my country opened. I had a chance to travel, see the world, and learn more. I developed a broad understanding of arts and culture, obtaining more knowledge that I would not have gotten had I remained working as an artist in a studio.

The experience of seeing international art and working with contemporary artists eventually lead me back to my creative skills and I started making art again. I returned to my practice and in my work I have attempted to use the knowledge I gained for a specific investigation that illuminates not only my personal identity but also my personal history and cultural meaning.

I’m particularly invested in examining my artistic instincts and how they connect to my cultural heritage. The influence of my cultural background can be seen in the materials used. As we all are products of our life experience, I include my personal stories into my works using a range of media including paintings, graphics, collages, digital works and illustrations. Incorporating elements of crafts into my paintings, due to their association with women and femininity, is also important to me. I consider these processes and practices to be my passage into a globalized society while simultaneously finding my niche within this society.

What visual mediums have you chosen for your narratives? Does one offer any advantages over the other depending on the narrative?

I experiment with many mediums. I work with oil and acrylic, or mixed mediums, such as collages. I also use some of my own images of my hand-made collages and prints for my digital works. Digital software opens new dimensions for my images and expression. I also like printmaking techniques and I use them when I have an access to the equipment.

One of my first printmaking pieces illustrates the top of a yurt, called the shanyrak, which is the circular opening. The traditional Kazakh house is the yurt, a portable house covered with felt carpets. A properly constructed yurt is cool in summer and warm in winter, and it can be set up or disassembled in less than an hour. Such housing was easy for a nomadic lifestyle and practical for the climate of Kazakhstan. I wanted to use this very symbolic image in my work. It is also a very sacred object with multiple meanings symbolizing the strength and unity of a family. I implemented this symbol using the intaglio technique. I also used this image in other works. I often go back to my visual collection of related objects and ephemera in order to search deeper and find additional meanings in them. In my series of collages Journey, I incorporated an image from an earlier painting, adding layers of different paper sources and mixed media to reference traditional patchwork.

In nomadic cultures, all memories were transmitted from one generation to another through oral traditions.  The history was shared through myths, stories, legends, and epic tales, but not through visual arts.

I find it fascinating how you’re using illustrations to breathe new life into your culture’s traditionally nomadic oral traditions. Is there a story or legend you could share with us?

In nomadic cultures, all memories were transmitted from one generation to another through oral traditions.  The history was shared through myths, stories, legends, and epic tales, but not through visual arts. Storytelling traditions vary all over the world.  They still exist in Kazakhstan and have different forms, like reciting poems and stories, or telling a story while singing and taking part in a battle with another storyteller.  I have created few illustrations to the famous book Sinbad the Sailor. It was my first try in illustration and I used my drawings and made digital illustrations for the book. The Seven Voyages, or Seven Stories, are fantastic tales of a merchant named Sinbad who embarks on incredible journeys.  Throughout his stories, Sinbad mentions the assorted obstacles that he faced, how he survived and how after many dangerous and life-threatening moments he returned home. I decided to illustrate them and create colorful imagery to show Sinbad’s love of travel and other cultures, despite all the hazardous situations. He survived all of them and was able to return home. In all stories, returning home for me means returning to your roots and family.

In my illustrations, there are images of monstrous sea creatures, gigantic birds, deadly snakes and dazzling cities. For the colorful backgrounds, I used scanned fabrics from the countries of my region, as it was mentioned in the stories of the Arabian Nights. Some of those are familiar to me from the fairytales I read when I was a child.

As I continue my life’s journey and experience the challenges of living in a new country, the plot of this book resonated with my current circumstances and my personal adventures. Growing up in a country which had the “Iron Wall” and borders closed to the West, I always wanted to get that feeling of freedom by travelling and experiencing the spirit of Sinbad’s journeys.  Thus, the character of Sinbad the Sailor is especially meaningful to me and was my first choice for a book to illustrate.

I think that creativity begins with the freedom to look backward as well as forward. Reinterpretation of my past through memories, feelings and thoughts define who I am today and who I was in the past. They also provide clues as to who I may be in the future.

In the past you’ve mentioned that much of your creative process takes place before you even begin the first brushstroke. I’d love to learn more about what your creative process looks like and what you draw your inspiration from.

I think that creativity begins with the freedom to look backward as well as forward. Reinterpretation of my past through memories, feelings and thoughts define who I am today and who I was in the past. They also provide clues as to who I may be in the future. This approach is challenging me to generate new subjects for my creative projects. The idea of memory is central to my art. The visual arts have long served the purpose of helping people remember important places, events and people. Time gives each of us a storehouse of memories — a storehouse that we add to as life marches forward.

I’m currently engaged in exploring colors, textures, personal items and my own imaginative resources. Various household items that I brought from my home country give me inspiration for my paintings.  These items, such as clothes, textiles, ceramics and carpets, are part of my domestic environment. I use them in order to understand the domestic sphere as emblematic of both personal and collective experience.

Thank you so much for sharing your amazing art and talents with us! Is there anyway for our readers to find out more about your work?

Thank you very much for this opportunity! I’d love to hear the feedback from my audience and I’m always open for questions and dialogue. You can find more of my work at  www.ainurabarron.com and follow me at:

Facebook – ainura.barron
Instagram – @ainura_barron