Qańtar Samal


Qańtar Samal (she/her) is a Kazakh digital artist from Aktobe. In her work, she shares her vision of Kazakh/Central Asian culture and its connection to the local queer community. Explore Qańtar’s Instagram to learn more about her work, and read a brief interview with Qańtar below.

Qańtar Samal
I didn't distance myself from my ethnic and queer identities. And because of that, each drawing that united these two parts of me became a manifesto in itself.

What role do you think art can play in social change, activism, and movements?

We live in a world of visual images. One bright image, one good drawing, can cause a storm of emotions. I think such emotions always are the beginning of various transformations in society.

How would you describe your artistic practice amplifying social movements in your communities and/or those your work is concerned with?

Initially, my work was not about activism. But I didn't distance myself from my ethnic and queer identities. And because of that, each drawing that united these two parts of me became a manifesto within itself. Perhaps my work naturally, almost unconsciously, joined the voices of people fighting for their rights. I would describe my practice as combining the cultures of Central Asia with thoughts about decolonization and acceptance of queerness.

"Baqyt – Happiness" | Qańtar Samal

In Qańtar's words: "Baqyt - Happiness" is a quick, simple sketch that I was asked to draw. But this sketch caused a flurry of emotions in the Central Asian segment of the Internet last year. Deputies of the local maslikhat, journalists, and media personalities wrote to me and demanded the removal of this drawing. They were offended by the fact that the kissing couple was in the traditional clothes of our region. In their opinion, our culture belongs only to “them” and the Kazakh/Central Asian LGBTQ+ community has no right to their culture, their language, or their history. Because of this, queer people are forced to choose between their heritage or their identity. I do not separate these two of my identities and draw them in my works.
"100 Years" | Qańtar Samal

In Qańtar's words: I drew “100 Years” for International Women's Day in 2020 to celebrate how women's rights in Kazakhstan have changed over these hundred years. In 2020, it was the centenary of the abolition of "kalyn mal"—"bride price" in Kazakh. Kazakh women have become freer over these hundred years. But we still have much to strive for, and we are doing everything possible to make our lives safer, freer, and more equal. And in this work, I wanted to show how proud our ancestors would be of us, seeing where we have come.
"January" | Qańtar Samal

In Qańtar's words: "January" is a drawing dedicated to the tragedy in Kazakhstan. In January of 2022, rallies were held throughout the country to protest social inequality. Initially peaceful protests, they ended in bloodshed, mass arrests. and torture. For several days we sat in a blackout. The government cut off our communications and the Internet. For a week, we were at home and guessed from the noise and screams in the distance what was happening now and what would happen next…