SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Immensity of Spirit

A photographic exploration of the native people of South-Eastern Siberia
by Aliaksandr Ilyukevich and Darya Harnitskaya

10 October - 9 December 2006

The Photographic Exhibition "The Immensity of Spirit" is an exploration of the native people of South-Eastern Siberia. The photography aims to illuminate the strong bond of people with nature, their way of life, the Shamanism of the region and the longstanding influence of Russian cultural aspects.

Siberia is a vast geographical region, mostly situated in the Asian part of Russia. It extends east across North Asia from the Urals to the Pacific coast and south from the tundra regions along the Arctic Ocean margins, through the great Taiga forest zone, to the steppes of Central Asia and Mongolia. The area is 5,493,629sq. miles. The Climatic conditions are characterized by its sharply continental features (short cool summers in the north, warm in the south and always extremely cold winters).

The allocation of Siberia's population has always depended above all on the physical-geographic conditions. Thus it is notable for its irregular expansion. The largest density of the population is concentrated in south part of Siberia, around the areas of the big industrial cities such as Novosibirsk, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Vladivostok and elsewhere. The 17th century became for Siberia a period of continuous immigration processes. First of all it was connected with conquests of the territory; afterwards the exile of political and criminal prisoners, geological investigations and the construction of big industrial centres.

With assimilation affecting the area since the 17th century, land has been lost to industrial cities that are encroaching upon the environment. Nevertheless the remnants of settlements separated by thousands of miles of taiga have managed to preserve their own language, shamanic traditions and the way of life. Perhaps the severe climate, lack of roads, mountain ranges and rough rivers have enabled them to survive with a degree of independence from outside pressures.

These images are important since they encapsulate cultural changes and movements that are repeating across the globe, and record a moment in time that may soon be lost...

The Belarusian photographers Aliaksandr Ilyukevich and Darya Harnitskaya frequently travel to ex-soviet countries for their photographic fieldwork making their most recent expedition to South-Eastern Siberia in 2005. Their current exhibition is a documentary work of a larger body of imagery spanning the breadth of the cultural aspects in Sayan Mountains and the lake Baikal areas with an emphasis on Shamanism and the environmental and human consequences of Russian influences.