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Nuclear Fallout Colors Pro-Test-Ban Artist’s Memories

Standing up against nuclear weapons testing seems like a common-sense thing today. But the world was a very different place when renowned artist and test ban advocate Karipbek Kuyukov began down that very road nearly a quarter-century ago.  

(Courtesy Patrick Gilsenan)
(Courtesy Patrick Gilsenan)

The Kazakh-born activist is expected to share the culmination of his experiences in the battle to halt nuclear proliferation during a Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament reception hosted by PNND Co-President and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey. The “Ending the Terror of Nuclear Weapons” event is scheduled to take place Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Kennedy Caucus Room (Russell 325). Prospective attendees are encouraged to RSVP here .  

Kuyukov, who currently serves as honorary ambassador for the ATOM Project, told HOH he first visited the U.S. in 1991.  

That year, he joined others opposed to the stockpiling of nuclear weapons in marching from D.C. to the Nevada test site — a cross-country trek during which Kuyukov warned locals about the perils of the arms race.  

(Courtesy Patrick Gilsenan)
(Courtesy Patrick Gilsenan)

“It is my mission to be one of the last to suffer from nuclear testing,” he said of his desire to spare future generations from the horrors (birth defects, physical deformity, premature death) that those, like himself, who grew up around the Semipalatinsk test site — proving ground operated by the Soviet Union from Aug. 29, 1949, to Aug.29, 1991 — experienced over time.  

“The time of global competition is over and should be confined to history,” Kuyukov said. He urged world leaders to focus on more worthwhile causes, ticking off economic development, energy efficiency and pressing social issues as possible alternatives. “Turn away from the weapons as the fetish … the ultimate symbol of manhood, so to speak, of power,” he chided. According to Kuyukov, his humanitarian mission has placed him in front of sympathetic crowds in New York, Japan, Switzerland, Netherlands, Russia and Germany. But one of the most moving encounters was something he experienced out in the Nevada desert.  

Kuyukov said he’ll never forget seeing a disconsolate Shoshone Indian chief, down on his knees, eyes welling, whispering something toward the ground. A translator explained that the chief was begging for forgiveness from the Earth.  

Per Kuyukov, that same chief later dubbed him a missionary — tasking his new friend with continuing to warn the rest of the world about the dangers of sullying the planet.  

That meeting inspired the “Last Breath,” a piece of art featuring a hand reaching out for assistance from a cracked and barren landscape, a mushroom cloud rising up in the distance.  

Kuyukov said he embraced painting as his chosen form of expression, even though he was born without arms, in order to “try and move people to action.”  

(Courtesy Patrick Gilsenan)
(Courtesy Patrick Gilsenan)

All the tragedy that he and his family have endured (his mother lost two children before he was born) is poured out on canvas for all the world to see — a glaring reminder of what once was, and could still continue to be, unless the electorate clamors for change.  

“I would ask the people to never forget that there is this threat,” Kuyukov counseled.

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