Slavs and Tatars <br> SIMURGH SELF-HELP
Slavs and Tatars’ new exhibition at Raster Gal­lery débuts work from Simurgh Self-​Help, the collective’s first new cycle of work since Pickle Politics (2016-2023) which was originally laun­ched on the occasion of the artists’ last exhibition at Raster in 2016. Drawing inspiration from Marcel Brood­thaers’ Musée d’Art Moderne – Département des Aigles (1968-1972), one of the most influen­tial works of con­cep­tual art of the 20th cen­tury, Slavs and Tatars embark in an inven­tive ‘trans­lation’ of the eagle, via the mythical bird Simurgh which exists in various guises in the Turko-​Persianate world, from mythology to literature to oral and writ­ten traditions in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Cen­tral Asia.
If the eagle serves as a repository for nationalism and empire, mat­ters of this world in the geo­political sense, the Simurgh helps us unlock an empire of senses and the dominion of the other-​worldly: from the affec­tive to the extrac­tive. On the one hand stands the eagle, demoted in modern times to a secular symbol of vulgar nationalism as is the case in Poland but also Ger­many, the US and coun­tless other nations, a short-​hand of sorts for machismo and other unsavory ideas. On the other, Simurgh a metaphysical creature and allegory for spiritual elevation and self-​knowledge, who is often depic­ted as flaming if not entirely gender-​fluid.

A winged creature, mainly female, who has wit­nes­sed the destruc­tion of the world three times over, the western-​most exam­ple of Simurgh exists in Ukraine and extends eastwards to the Uyghur region in China.
Through the juxtaposition of the Eagle and the Simurgh, Slavs and Tatars offer a speculative history, an alter-​ego of con­tem­porary societies which face scor­ching dilem­mas about national iden­tity and nationalism. By ‘trans­lating’ the eagle into a Simurgh, the col­lec­tive expands the limited worl­dview of Brood­thaers’ original and pioneering institutional critique to inc­lude an often over-​looked region (Cen­tral Asia and Caucasus) san­dwiched between fading, former and/or revan­chist empires (Rus­sian, Ottoman, Persian.
With the ability to fly, to travel, to sing, birds have long enchan­ted humans as sym­bols of liberation, from Aristophanes The Birds(Ornithes) to Farid ud-​Din Attar’s The Con­ference of the Birds. Attar’s 12th cen­tury master­piece famously stages an epic jour­ney of several birds in search of the Simurgh. The literary device encap­sulates the essence of democracy as a system that honors the voice of the individual while emphasizing the impor­tance of col­lec­tive decision-​making, sharing and action.
Works from this new cycle will be featured in museum shows in 2025 in Ger­many (Kun­sthalle Baden Baden) and France (Frac, Pays de la Loire).


Slavs and Tatars