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Interview with Aigul Khakimzhanova,
winner of the Illustration category at OCABF 2012

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The first Open Central Asia Book Forum, held in Bishkek in 2012, uncovered not only new writers but also the often forgotten illustrators whose work adorns the front covers and pages within. The front cover is an odd concept in many ways because it is the first thing that a reader connects with in deciding whether or not he or she will invest their precious time in reading the text in the hundreds of pages that follow. Irrespective of the text contained within, the picture itself should provide the first point of a book’s marketing appeal and determine whether the reader’s attention has been captured. Winner of OCABF 2012’s illustration categiry, Aigul Khakimzhanova is a high achiever in the educational sphere of design in Kazakhstan. She has been a member of the Union of Artists since 2003 and has exhibited at both national and international exhibitions. Her works are in private collections in Kazakhstan and abroad and, following the publications of her illustrations in the competition’s overall winner’s book, “The Gods of the Middle World” by Galina Dolgaya, we caught up with this illustrious illustrator to find out more…

 OCA: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into illustration?

Aigul Khakimzhanova: Every person comes to this life completely clean and with absolute features. But in the future, each of us chooses their own path and we make our own choices and priorities. I showed great interest in fine art . I liked to draw a lot, as many children do, but for me at that time the world of art was like a fantasy feeling. This passion and fascination gave me the confidence to think about getting into professional art education, and I graduated from the Art & Graphics Department of KazPI University in Almaty city. As a student I illustrated various artworks for magazines and fell in love with the work of a great comic artist, H. Bidstrup. After that I drew my own comic book series with a great pleasure during my lectures, which is what got me into animation. Unfortunately, at that time only men were recruited and so I only had a dream. They say that dreams come true, and my dream came true a few years later when I was offered the job of artist-director of the animated film, “Men senemin,” as well as other cartoons. I was more used to pen and ink, so the visual possibilities of using pastel seemed very mysterious but this is what I submitted for the first international book forum in Bishkek in 2012. Now I am working as a teacher in the college of Kazakh National Academy of Arts, named in honor of T.Zhurgenov, in Almaty city, Kazakhstan.

OCA: Why did you enter the OCABF 2013 literature competition?

AK: A friend told me about OCABF and suggested I participate. Contests or festivals help push you to do something new for yourself and for others. It’s a test of your pen in a more professional capacity, opening new horizons and meeting new people with their creative visions and familiarity with their works.

OCA: What did winning the OCABF 2012 illustration category mean to you and how
has it helped promote your work?

AK: Of course I was very pleased to win in this festival, firstly as a creative person and secondly, from a sense of patriotism. It’s nice when your work is highly evaluated by a professional jury at an international level. They say there is no limit to perfection … and every victory is perhaps a new stepping stone to further discoveries. For me the next step after the OCABF festival was a proposal from the organizers – to illustrate the work of Galina Dolgaya titled, “The Gods of the Middle Earth”, which won in the Literary Work category. The book was published in London in 2013 with my illustrations. Of course, I have other creative plans and dreams; I hope that the inspiration you can get after winning, gives me the right incentive for further creative achievements.

OCA: Illustrating texts can be very challenging as your vision of what is written might be very different from that of the author’s original vision of the scene. How do you overcome that difference?

AK: I have never really been at conflict with authors. This is not because we always get along and understand each other perfectly from the start, but because I am always initially interested in the creative vision of the author and how he sees his work for himself or what he would like to see. So I take his insight into the artistic reflection of his work and respect his opinion, he has that right. After all an author practically lives with his creation. I think you need more tact, intuition and skill to reflect the product through artistic visuals. There can be no dispute about “What came first – the chicken or the egg?” The aim of the artist is not only to stick to his creative vision on any given subject because we are not talking about your personal exhibition, where are you entitled to overwhelm the viewer with your eccentricity, but rather the ability to reflect the theme of art, in tune with the style of the work.

OCA: What influences your own style of work?

AK: For me it is about a desire to express my feelings, thoughts and emotional response to what I care about as well as the things I don’t want to go through. The feeling of this life, with its simplicity and at the same time complexity, mystery and irregularity, is what I draw upon. Anything that can fill your soul with senses and everything that gives you the impulse to represent a reflection of yourself on a clean sheet.

OCA: What message do you have for other aspiring artists?

AK: I hope my colleagues do not stop here. Creativity can be so unpredictable, it can vary depending on your inspiration and there is a special ordinance that may amaze you and your viewers. It’s inside and outside of you, it is impossible to grasp, and it is impossible to lose it. I wish you good luck and success!

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