Take a trip to Siberia at the Weisman Art Museum

Rasul Mesyagutov, <i>Nagayev Bay in Winter, Magadan Region,</i> 2006.

Rasul Mesyagutov, Nagayev Bay in Winter, Magadan Region, 2006.

How many times have you asked yourself, shivering as the snow falls down on you, why on earth you live in such a frigidly cold climate? Well just imagine if you lived in Siberia, an even colder and more desolate place than Minnesota. Would it be much worse than living here? Perhaps. You can go ahead and compare the two in a new exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum, "Siberia: Imagined and ReImagined," which takes a look at Russia's most frigid region.


Organized by the Foundation for International Arts and Education, a nonprofit that develops museum exhibits on the cultural traditions of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Russia, and Central Asia, the exhibition contains over 100 photographs from the 1870s to the present. Featuring mostly Russian photographers, the work included in the show is divided into sections: before the revolution, Soviet realism, realism, post realism, and Siberia and the American West. While the first four sections correspond with historical time periods and aesthetic trends, the last and largest part of the exhibit serves as a comparison between Russian images of Siberia and America's views of the West. 

The exhibition starts out with images of convicts and penal colonies, as well as shots of indigenous tribes living in Siberia during the 19th century. The photographs depict a history that has gone untold in the Hollywood narrative of Siberia. Curator Leah Vendavid-Val frames a story of conquest and domination, where Russian migrants overtook land and decimated tribal populations for their purposes.

The exhibit then moves on Russia after the revolution, when Stalinist-era photography acted as propaganda for the regime. In one photograph, peasants and indigenous people seem to be happily enjoying a concert, despite the fact they are on a forced collectivist farm that acted as a means of destroying both the native population and peasant communities. 

The images become grittier in the latter half of the 20th century, with Russian photographers having more freedom to move away from the rigid state-sanctioned aesthetics. As the exhibition moves toward the 21st century, the shots become increasingly moody, and at times subversive. One photograph by Vladimir Sokolayev, for example, depicts employees watching a state-sponsored funeral on a ridiculously crappy looking television. The photograph was taken five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and clearly shows an impatience with the regime. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibit is the last section, where the idea of Siberia is contrasted with American notions of manifest destiny. Sometimes showing nearly identical photographs side by side, Vendavid-Val examines the similarities between the two countries, especially in regard to the idea of conquering the wild. 


"Siberia: Imagined and Reimagined"

Through May 18

The Weisman Art Museum

333 E. River Rd., Minneapolis

Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday