In August 2023, American artist Ángel Rafael Vázquez-Concepción traveled to Astana and Almaty, Kazakhstan, to participate in an Art in Embassies Democracy Collection Artist Exchange in conjunction with the recognition of the UN Day Against Nuclear Testing. Much of Vázquez-Concepción’s art is rooted in the history of atomic culture and nuclear technology in the United States, and he created several original pieces for the exhibition in Astana that spotlight the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement and the connection to both American and Kazakh struggles to close nuclear test sites.
The exchange kicked off with a reception held at the Residence of U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Daniel Rosenblum, at which Vázquez-Concepción spoke about his work and engaged with local Kazakh artists and activists like Karipbek Kuyukov, a significant member of the anti-nuclear movement. The next day, he led a master class at the Forte Kulanshi Art Center where he talked to students about his experiences as an American artist and about his inspirations. That evening at Arbat he led a workshop creating paper cranes while discussing the story of Sadako Sasaki, a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast, and her thousand paper cranes. The conversation held there fed directly into a panel discussion with Kazakh artists marking the International Day Against Nuclear Tests and a screening of the documentary Birge, which highlights collaborative U.S.-Kazakh efforts in nonproliferation.
Vázquez-Concepción then traveled to Almaty where he first met with members of Youth4TPNW, a youth-led global movement calling for a world free from nuclear weaponry. “One of the most enlightening experiences during this journey was meeting young individuals and directly hearing their vision for Kazakhstan,” he said. “I was genuinely impressed by the enthusiasm, clarity, and maturity with which they spoke about their aspirations and the future they envision for their nation. It was evident that the youth of Kazakhstan are well-prepared and eager to harness the rich, diverse resources of their country and navigate the challenges that come their way.” Over the course of the exchange, most of the people Vázquez-Concepción engaged with were local youth, his visit inspiring them in their growth as artists and activists.
Lunch that afternoon was a group discussion with several Kazakh artists and activists. He described this lunch as a pinnacle experience: “It wasn’t just about sharing a meal, but an amalgamation of diverse thoughts, artistic passions, and cultural narratives… It showcased the power of art to build bridges and create dialogues that are both meaningful and restorative.” Afterwards, he gave a talk at the American Space in Almaty called “Atom. History. Art” followed by a question-and-answer session.
On the final day of the program, Vázquez-Concepción met with the Union of Artists of Kazakhstan, some of the most established artists in the country. With the artists gathered, he discussed how he makes a living as an artist and how that compares with a similar life in Kazakhstan, along with what possibilities there are for artistic collaboration between the United States and Kazakhstan.