Literature. Kyrgyz was not written until the twentieth century. The Kyrgyz oral tradition included several epics about mythical warriors, including Manas, Jayin-Bayis, Kurmanbek, and Er Tabildi. The epic Manas is most widely known, and is still widely performed by manaschis. It is not a memorized piece; the best manaschis take the outline of the story and improvise verses, which have a distinct rhythmic beat and are accompanied by expressive hand gestures. Thirteen versions and four million verses have been recorded.
During the twentieth century, novel-writing in the historical and romance genres developed. The best-known Kyrgyz novelist is Chingiz Aitmatov, who is known for his critical novels about life in Soviet Central Asia.
Graphic Arts. Traditional crafts are taught in school, and the graphic arts are well developed. In most cases artisans create objects to be sold either as souvenirs to tourists or as heirlooms for people’s homes. Some are displayed in the National Gallery or in museums abroad. Most of these are done in wool or silk, including the wool carpets called shirdaks and alakiis, embroidered wall hangings called tush-kiis, and small animal or human figures. Wood, horn, leather, and clay are also used. There are a number of painters as well, whose works are sold mostly to foreigners. These often have traditional Kyrgyz themes but often use modern and postmodern styles of painting. Galleries and art exhibits are almost exclusively in the capital city.
Performance Arts. Kyrgyz folk singing and music lessons are frequently offered in schools. There are several Kyrgyz children’s performance groups, which feature traditional songs and dance as well as performances using Kyrgyz instruments. The best-known instruments are the komuz (a three-stringed lute), oz-komuz (mouth harp), the chopo choor (clay wind instrument), and the kuiak (a four-stringed instrument played with a bow). There also are adult folk, classical, and operatic musicians and groups who perform in the capital regularly. Popular television shows feature Kyrgyz pop and folk singers and musicians. There is a small but active film industry.