ABOUT THE EXHIBIT
On the Road of Bones: Ghosts of the Siberian Gulag Along the Old Kolyma Highway is a new exhibition at Kris Waldherr Art and Words studio-gallery in Brooklyn.
Through photography and mixed media, this powerful exhibition reveals the secret history and hidden landscape of Kolyma, formerly the land of Soviet labor camps and the coldest inhabited region on earth. Stunning new works by young native Siberian photographers Bolot Bochkarev, Nastya Borisova, and Ajar Varlamov trace the remains of the vast highway built across the taiga, tundra, and permafrost of North Asia by Stalin’s prisoners. Curated by anthropologist Thomas Ross Miller, the exhibition juxtaposes the tragic events of the past with the natural beauty of the frozen land and the daily lives of far northern people.
Through photography and testimony, On the Road of Bones conjures a hauntology of the hidden past. In the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1953, millions of victims of Soviet repression were sent to forced labor camps in Siberia, where they constructed the Kolyma Highway across the frozen ground of the coldest inhabited regions on earth. Untold numbers of them died and were buried along the route; prisoners said there was one body for each log cut down to clear the forest. Some of these half-forgotten places are now abandoned and being reclaimed by nature. Over long stretches the ruins of the road are traversed only by the occasional convoy of trucks and motorcycles.
Across European Russia and the Ukraine, arbitrary purges and arrest quotas separated families forever. Many never returned from the roads leading north. Inmates were forced to build their own jails and dig their own graves. The human toll is impossible to calculate. After more modern highways were built the Road of Bones was little travelled, and parts of it fell into disrepair. In the last five years, it has become popular with adventure travelers and long-distance motorcyclists drawn by the challenge of the frequently impassable route through the Verkhoyansk Mountains in extreme weather. In January 2010, young native Siberian photographers Bolot Bochkarev, Ajar Varlamov, and Nastya Borisova said to each other “Why not visit the world’s coldest place in the coldest period of time?” Images in the exhibition include excerpts from the visual diary of their midwinter journey to Oymyakon, the world’s coldest settlement, known as the Pole of Cold.
Bolot Bochkarev, a journalist living in Yakutsk, is the founder of eYakutia.com, AskYakutia.com, and the international online community project Cold United.
Nastya Borisova works in magazine publishing and lives in Yakutsk.
Ajar Varlamov, a newspaper advertising agent, travels widely throughout Siberia.
Thomas Ross Miller, Ph.D. is an anthropologist, writer and media artist. Among his previous exhibitions are Drawing Shadows to Stone: Photographing North Pacific Peoples (1897–1902) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and Siberian Shamans at the Linden-State Museum of Ethnology in Stuttgart, Germany. Read his statement.
Kris Waldherr Art and Words is the studio gallery of author, illustrator and designer Kris Waldherr. The award-winning author of Doomed Queens, The Lover’s Path and The Book of Goddesses, and creator of The Goddess Tarot, her art has been exhibited in the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Located in Brooklyn’s Victorian Flatbush neighborhood, the gallery hosts exhibitions and special events. Hours: Fridays 5-8 pm, Saturdays 1-5 pm, and by appointment. Directions: Q or B train to Newkirk Ave.; entrance on Marlborough Road, around the corner from subway.