Group exhibition

Mari. Research / Chuvash. Research
11.02.2015 — 08.03.2015, CCA WINZAVOD

Department of Research Arts is Russia's first inter-disciplinary project bringing together artists, photographers, geographers, anthropologists, architects and urbanists. The project's aim is to study the modern anthropological and geographical processes taking place in Russia using modern artistic practices.

Department of Research Arts project began in September of 2013 with a group exhibition dedicated to the Republic of Udmurtia, part of the Russian Federation. This was followed by a project by Igor Starkov and Daria Andreeva about the village of Kaleval in Karelia (January, 2014) and a group project studying the Moscow region (June, 2014), the territory of the former principality of Muscovy.

In 2015, the Department of Research Arts project received grant support from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.

Triumph Gallery and the Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art now present new exhibitions of the Department of Research Arts project that focus on two neighboring republics in the Volga region – Mari El and Chuvashia. Despite their geographical proximity and the cultural links that have been established between them, the peoples residing in these two areas are very different – ethnically, the Mari are part of the Finno-Ugric group, while the Chuvash are part of the Turkic group, tracing their ancestry back to the Ancient Bulgars. The Mari continue to practice their traditional pagan beliefs, while the Chuvash have been Christianized to a greater extent. The exhibition presents a documentation of the modern life of the Mari and the Chuvash, attempting to define the identity and specific character of the way of life of these peoples in the present day.

The architecture of the exhibition takes as its starting point the fact that the regions neighbor geographically, presenting the Volga River as a key landscaping barrier that defines the interaction between the Mari and the Chuvash. The exhibition will include photographic and video works by artists who have studied Mari El and Chuvashia in 2010–2014, Chuvash and Mari objects of daily life from private collections, artifacts of contemporary city culture, photographs from family archives and the expeditionary photographic journals of Dmitry Doronin (a member of staff at the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences).

A round table and an excursion featuring leading urbanists, sociologists, anthropologists and photographic artists participating in the project will be held during the exhibition.

Exhibition curators: Sofia Gavrilova, Kristina Romanova, Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov
Photographers: Ikuru Kywadjima, Fyodor Telkov, Albina Shaymuratova, Maxim Sher
Academic consultants: Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (Cambridge University, Social Anthropolgy Department), Dmitry Doronin (Anthropoly Insitute, Russian Academy of Sciences)
Items of traditional cultural provided by the Mari El Community in Moscow and Dmitry Doronin and Vyacheslav Terkin.

The Mari are one of Russia's medium-sized peoples. According to the 2010 population census , there are just under 550,000 Mari in Russia. As well as the Republic of Mari El, contemporary Mari inhabit the south of the Sverdlovsk Oblast and the north of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast (all of which are within the Russian Federation). Despite the assimilation of the native population and merging with the Russian, Tatar, Bashkir and Udmurt ethnic groups, in certain Mari settlements the authentic culture has been preserved: pagan rituals, traditional festivities, utensils and clothing.

The works of the photographers Ikuru Kywadjima and Albina Shaymuratova present the rituals of the Mari: annual Universal prayers of the believers of the Mari religion and the New Year celebration, “Shoryk-Iol”, which translates from the Mari as “sheep's leg”. In the latter ritual, adults and children search in the darkness of the sheep-fold for a white lamb which heralds good in the coming year. Whilst doing this, the faces of those performing the rite are always covered, so that bad words can't escape.

The series of works by the photographer Fyodor Telkov “A concealed people. Ural-Mari” is dedicated to a small group of Mari living in the Urals: the forefathers of the Ural-Mari emigrated to these lands, escaping enforced Christianization. Although the local inhabitants have been pagans, at present the majority of holy groves have been abandoned, and the rituals of old are only rarely encountered. The decline of a culture that developed over centuries can be seen in the fact that the native language has mixed heavily with Russian, and the art of embroidering traditional costumes has been lost. Nevertheless, at present the Ural-Mari are trying to resurrect what has been lost and to get back to their roots, despite significant numbers of youngsters leaving the rural regions and heading for the cities.

In the largest towns in the Republic of Mari El, there is a clear desire among the members of this ancient Volga region people to preserve their identity. This, however, is usually limited to the inhabitants adapting the traditions of old to the conditions of modern life. At the same time, there is also a tendency to imitate the architecture and the way of life of major cities.

In 2007, a decision was taken to change the appearance of the capital, Ioshkar-Ola, or Ioshka, as it is referred to by the locals. This small town, until 1919, was called Tsaryovokokshaisky. Prior to the Revolution of 1917, it had a population of just 2,500. In January of last year, its population amounted to 253,000. Its current appearance developed, for the most part, after the Second World War. In the center there are streets featuring cozy, although somewhat rundown two and four-story Stalin-era buildings; the rest is made up of the usual Russian town environment: five and nine-story, characterless, utilitarian constructions and industrial zones.

The series of photographic works by Maxim Sher shows how much the city has changed over the last five years. Ioshkar-Ola reminds us of the set for a Disney animated film or a snowy amusement park. Venetian palazzos, the Kremlin's Spassky Tower, the embankment in Bruges and other internationally renowned architectural monuments have become visual dominants in the central part of the city.


Exhibition curators: Sofia Gavrilova, Kristina Romanova, Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov
Photographers: Vladislav Mikhailov, Ivan Mikhailov, Sergei Novikov
Scientific consultants:
Academic consultants: Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (Cambridge University, Social Anthropolgy Department), Gennady Ivanov-Orkov (Chuvashia State Arts Museum head of the decorative and applied arts department)

The Chuvash are a people of Turkic origins, and they are the native inhabitants of the Republic of Chuvashia. They number about 1.5 million, of which 1 million reside in Russia (according to the results of the 2010 census). About half of all Chuvash living in Russia reside in Chuvashia, with smaller groups living in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Traditional Chuvash beliefs comprise a complex system characterized by polytheism and animism. At present, the Chuvash are the largest Turkic people where the majority professes the Christian faith.

Ivan Mikhailov in his photographic project deals with issues arising in a confrontation of the mythological pagan past of the Chuvash and their modern everyday lives, which is to say the transformations taking place in the cities and in the villages. In architecture, the new trading complexes and business centers reproduce traditional ornamentation, and on the facades of standardized Soviet multi-story buildings one can see branches of trees that have been attached by the locals – the branch is an ancient symbol for the universe. Portraits of youths, the desolate shores of the Volga River that passes through the entire region, parks and building courtyards – all this, in Mikhailov's works, depicts the visual landscape that surrounds the Chuvash of today.

In Chuvashia, Ivan Mikhailov photographed the Akatui folk festival, which celebrates the completion of the planting works, and the renowned Tsivilskaya fair. At the exhibition, these series of works will be presented together with archive photos from the 1980s shot in the same locations by the artist's father, Vladislav Mikhailov.

The photographer Sergei Novikov shows changes in the appearance of the capital of Chuvashia, the city of Cheboksary, that have taken place over the last 10 years. Among the locals, Cheboksary, which has a population of about half a million, is known as “the city on seven ravines.” Vast, oblong hollows create at once a somewhat uncomfortable environment and an attraction for the local population. The city is evolving, however, and its legendary ravines are evolving with it. Today, the widespread availability of mortgages and a desire among recent generations to own their own homes have led developers to build on a huge scale. First and foremost this concerns the outskirts of the city, bordering on the ravines, which are now being filled in for the construction of prefabricated multistory buildings and new transport links. Gradually, the private housing sector is disappearing, and many people are being forced off the land that was worked by their forebears in order to free up sites for the new constructions.