Slavs and Tatars

The Contest of the Fruits

September 22, 2023 — January 16, 2024


Slavs and Tatars is an internationally renowned art collective devoted to an area East of the former Berlin Wall and West of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia. The collective’s practice is based on three activities: exhibitions, publications, and lecture-performances.

Since its inception in 2006, the collective has shown a keen grasp of polemical issues in society, clearing new paths for contemporary discourse via a wholly idiosyncratic form of knowledge production: including popular culture, spiritual and esoteric traditions, oral histories, modern myths, as well as scholarly research.

The exhibition at Basement Roma presents for the first time in Italy Slavs and Tatars’ first animated film, The Contest of the Fruits, which takes as its starting point a satirical Uyghur poem from the 19th century, to immerse visitors in an investigation of language, politics, religion, humor, resilience and resistance. The film reveals the richness of Uyghur culture, that of a Turkic-speaking majority Sunni Muslim people living in the Uyghur autonomous region of Xinjiang in China, via thirteen individual fruits – from the mulberry to the pomegranate, the quince to the jujube – engaging in ribald rivalry. With its oral flourishes and highly performative nature, The Contest of the Fruits is perhaps the first Turkic rap battle, and the result of a syncretic linguistic, and ethnographic heritage that makes up Uyghur identity and culture.

The second part of the exhibition also includes MERCZbau, the collective’s latest initiative after Pickle Bar – their Slavic aperitivo bar-cum-performance space – which takes the practice of art and knowledge production outside the confines of the traditional exhibition space and academy.

With t-shirts celebrating transliteration and hoodies featuring phonemes, MERCZbau extends the collective’s interest in all things Eurasian to wear. First presented at the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium in 2022, MERCZbau has collaborated with M HKA, Antwerp and raised thousands of euros for scholars and artists at risk in Ukraine and Iran.

Slavs and Tatars’ work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions across the globe, including: Vienna Secession; MoMA, New York; Salt, Istanbul; Albertinum, Dresden, et al. They have published more than twelve books to date, including most recently Лук Бук (Look Book) with Distanz Verlag.

A lecture-performance, titled Transliterative Tease, was organized on September 21 at Museo Casa di Goethe in Via del Corso 18, Rome.

Museo Casa di Goethe

Thanks to
John Cabot University

Slavs and Tatars, The Contest of the Fruits, Installation view Basement Roma Courtesy: the artists
Photo: Roberto Apa © Slavs and Tatars