Stunning pictures portraying the traditional life of indigenous peoples across the remote Russian Arctic are to go on display at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, London.
Taken by British photographer Bryan Alexander, this exhibition of 40 photographs reveals aspects of the lives of the Chukchi, Dolgan, Even, Khanty, Komi, Nenets, and Nganasan people, showing how they live today in their native communities, their traditional camps, transportation and dress as well as activities such as herding, hunting and fishing. This series of striking images includes a herd of 1,000 reindeer being driven across the tundra in Khanty Mansiysk; the Northern Lights over a Nenets reindeer herders camp and Khanty women in traditional dress in Pitlyar.
The vast size of Siberia, combined with the isolation of many of its northern communities, has ensured that these unique Arctic cultures have survived to this day. Only a minority of Arctic peoples still maintain the old ways, but traditional activities remain important both culturally and economically.
Fiona Kerlogue, Deputy Keeper of Anthropology, says: ‘The lives of the peoples of Arctic Russia have changed dramatically over the last several decades. These photographs capture in fascinating detail some of the traditional ways of life that continue, alongside modern practices, as people carve out an existence in extreme conditions.’
The name of the exhibition, Whisper of the Stars, comes from Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in Eastern Siberia, where the extreme winter cold creates a strange phenomenon. When the temperature drops below the mid minus-50s Celsius, a soft whooshing sound can sometimes be heard, like rice or grain being poured. This noise is caused by the moisture in one’s own exhaled breath turning to ice crystals in the cold dry air. The native Yakut people call this the whisper of the stars.
Bryan Alexander specialises in documenting the life of the Arctic's indigenous peoples and the issues that affect them. In 1971 he used a Royal Society of Arts travel bursary to visit North West Greenland where he lived in a small Inuit community. This began a lifetime of documenting the Arctic and its people.
Copies of the book Forty Below – Traditional Life in the Arctic, by Bryan and Cherry Alexander, can be found in the Horniman gift shop.
Visitors to the Horniman can also see how animals and plants survive in extremely cold conditions in the Horniman’s new family friendly exhibition Extremes. The exhibition centres round five main environments - extreme cold, heat, aridity, permanent darkness and lack of oxygen – and mixes hands-on experiences including games and experiments with films, photographs and taxidermy animal specimens.