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Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes

24 October–20 December 2015

Curated by Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh

In Mirrors for Princes, Slavs and Tatars look to a medieval genre of advice literature known as ‘mirrors for princes’. These guidebooks for future rulers were a literary tradition shared by Christians and Muslims, with Machiavelli’s The Prince the best-known, if somewhat later, example. The texts present issues that continue to resonate today across the world, providing a case study of the balance between faith and state. In the exhibition, visitors traverse two immersive and contrasting environments: an audio-sculpture installation featuring multilingual excerpts from an 11th-century Turkic ‘mirror for prince’ called Kutadgu Bilig (Wisdom of Royal Glory), and a dark, psychedelic space revealing a series of glowing, fetishistic sculptures that share the text’s concern with grooming. Kutadgu Bilig has been translated into six languages, including the Aboriginal language Yuggera. It represents one of the few known recordings of Yuggera, and was translated by language custodian Uncle Des Sandy.

One passage from Kutagu Bilig that is central to many works in the show reads:

Two organs – the tongue and the heart – distinguish man’s body; and He created both for the sake of speech that is straight and true. If a man’s words are straight, he will reap great profit from them; if they are bent, he will be cursed in this life and burned in the next. So let your tongue bring forth your words if they are straight; but if they are crooked, then keep them hidden.

The importance of grooming the mind and the body as well as the alignment of the heart and the tongue are repeated themes throughout Mirrors for Princes. Slavs and Tatar address governance first and foremost as self-governance, that is, the conception of oneself as a multitude of peoples, nations, conflicting desires, and intentionalities, amongst others. Where the original mirrors for princes were traditionally top-down, with the intended audience the ruler, the artists have decided for a bottom up  or inside out approach, by investigating grooming in both figurative and literal senses.


The exhibition is accompanied by a book also titled Mirrors for Princes edited by Anthony Downey of Ibraaz, commissioned by NYUAD Art Gallery and published by JRP|Ringier.

Exhibition Cycle

Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes is a series of unique installations drawn from their research. The exhibition cycle manifests at five different venues. These include Kunsthalle Zurich (August 30–November 9, 2014); NYUAD Art Gallery (February 28–May 30, 2015); Collective Art Gallery, Edinburgh (25 April-12 July, 2015), Institute of Modern Art (IMA), Brisbane, Australia (October 24–December 20, 2015); Blaffer Art Museum, Houston, Texas (January 16–March 19, 2016).


Founded in 2006, Slavs and Tatars is an art collective that describes itself as “a faction of polemics and intimacies 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, books and lecture performances–and spans a broad spectrum of cultural registers (high and low) focusing on an oft-forgotten sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians.

Slavs and Tatars have presented solo exhibitions at major institutions including MoMA, NY; Secession, Vienna; REDCAT, Los Angeles; Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Dallas Museum of Art. Group exhibitions include Centre Pompidou, Paris; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Tate Modern, London; Salt, Istanbul; Istanbul Modern, Istanbul; 10th Sharjah, 3rd Mercosul, 9th Gwangju and 8th Berlin biennials.

Slavs and Tatars have published several books, including Not Moscow Not Mecca (Revolver/Secession, 2012), Khhhhhhh (Mousse/Moravia Gallery, 2012), Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz (Book Works, 2013) as well as their translation of the legendary Azeri satire Molla Nasreddin: the magazine that would’ve, could’ve, should’ve (JRP-Ringier, 2011).


Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes is supported by Choices Flooring and MAAP Media Bank.



Mirrors for Princes features the translation of an 11th-century Turkic ‘mirror for prince’ text called Kutadgu Bilig (Wisdom of Royal Glory) into the Aboriginal language Yuggera (also known as Yugura-Yugarapul or even Yugarabul), along with six other languages from around the world. This represents one of the few known recordings of the Yuggera language, and was translated by language custodian Uncle Des Sandy, with assistance from Desmond Crump, Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory, State Library of Queensland. The text was spoken by Desmond Crump, with official approval and assistance from language custodian Uncle Des Sandy.