The Artists

Due to relocation, ART beyond borders is currently closed. Please feel free to browse the pages for information. Alibay Bapanov now has his own Facebook page, so you can contact him directly in case you are inspired by his works!

Alibay and Saule Bapanov, leading artists in their home country of Kazakhstan, have developed a unique art form with their textile wall-art. Their intricate hand-woven tapestries, hand-felted ‘voilok’ and reed-based ‘chiy’ masterfully blend centuries old skills and Central Asian cultural icons with modern artistic expression, building a bridge from cultural heritage to modern art.

Bold color contrast or fluid color gradation, grand scale or small size, ethnic symbolism or universal abstraction – the Bapanovs excel in each endeavor, and with every new piece open up new horizons.

Translating her weaving, felting and color composition skills to garments, Saule Bapanova ventured into new artistic territory. Felting onto a base of hand-woven raw silk, in ever surprising and amazing color combinations, she transforms lose wool fibers into textile poems. The contrast between opaque and transparent, pattern and solid, ancient craft and progressive style make each of her shawls a precious, distinctive piece of wearable art.

Art beyond borders is proud to exclusively present these wonderful and impressive pieces to the American audience.

Alibay and Saule Bapanov live and work in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they teach painting and textile art at the Kazakh National Academy of Arts. Their works have been exhibited nationally and internationally, and can be found in State Museums of Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, China, Turkey, Poland and Denmark, as well as private collections around the world.

In 2003, Alibay Bapanov was awarded the Kazakh National Medal of Honor for his liftime achievements in the Arts.
In 2007, Saule and Alibay  were awarded the ‘Platinum Tarlan’ of the Mécénats’ Club of Kazakhstan.


Kazakhstan is one of the young republics that emerged as a sovereign nation in 1991 from the demise of the Soviet Union. A country as big as all of Western Europe (almost 4 times the size of Texas), but with only 16 million inhabitants, it is blessed with many natural resources like oil and gas. Today, Kazakhstan looks back on centuries of proud nomadic history and tradition. From generation to generation, folk-lore, songs, poems, and handicraft skills were passed on and refined to mastery.

Much of this cultural and artistic wealth was neglected or even suppressed during the Soviet era, and is being re-discovered with the newly gained independence by truly inspired artists who embrace the creative freedom that came with the political change.

Tapestry, Voilok and Chiy

Traditionally, woven, felted and reed-based fabrics were all used in the construction of the Kazakh nomadic round tent, called ‘Yurta’.

Heavy felts of un-spun wool were used for the outer walls and roof, as well as the floor. The traditional patterns in this technique were usually bold and large scale, given the nature of the material and felting process. The strictly black and white Kazakh syrmaks (felt carpets) are a well-known example for this technique. ‘Voilok’ is the Russian word for felt, and used by the Bapanovs as a descriptor for their felted wall-hangings. 'Enchanted Flight' and 'Mysterious Reflections' are examples of voilok.

Tapestries were used to both insulate and decorate the inside walls. Originally, tapestries showed distinct traditional patterns that were characteristic of each clan and tribe. Tapestries are a weft-faced weave, so the warp is only visible as a fringe. Usually, cotton is used as warp, while wool, silk, camel hair, or mixed materials such as silk blends or ribbons are used as weft. A special type of tapestry fabric was the ‘Baskur’, a narrow, long carpet band that was used to weigh and tie down the roof of the yurta. 'Day-Night' and 'Steppe Dreams' are examples of baskur.

‘Chiys’, or reed mats, were used as a layer of insulation in the walls of the yurta, or under bed mats. They also served as room dividers for the women’s part of the tent. Stalks of reed are wrapped in un-spun wool and then joined together by string or plant fiber to produce a pattern. Chiy patterns are immensely difficult and labor-intensive to produce, and in the nomadic clans, the senior Chiy-pattern maker was highly regarded. 'Green Land' and 'Brown Land' are examples of chiy.

Saule and Alibay Bapanovs’ modern interpretations of these ancient crafts draw power from the juxtaposition of centuries-old techniques and contemporary design.