Motherland. Far Beyond the Polar Circle
Motherland. Far Beyond the Polar Circle is a visual and investigative journey taken by Georgs Avetisjans during the winter of 2019–2020. Using a Soviet-made medium-format camera, the Salut, the artist narrates the story of Igarka, where many deported Latvians once lived. The city is located 163 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle in Siberia and was built upon the bones of Soviet prisoners. The artist’s grandmother was deported to Siberia on June 14, 1941 and she has never said a word about it since. During the next deportations between 1948 and 1951, thousands more civilians were forcefully moved and millions of lives were affected by Stalin’s Gulag labor system. Considered enemies of the USSR, many were taken to camps and left to die from cold, starvation, and poverty.
In this body of work, Avetisjans oscillates between the past and the present and his documentary-style photography is dominated by this sharp dual vision that exposes secrets guarded in the past. He shows how today the community of Igarka has its own hopes and dreams for the future: the revival of railway and agriculture, to become the oil capital of Siberia, and the expansion of its airport. Yet these contemporary images stand in contrast to governmental records and archival material. By tracing the painful account of his own family, Avetisjans shares snapshots of the seemingly infinite landscapes of Northern Siberia and its inhabitants. While now often romanticized, this vast expanse holds many recollections that the artist excavates and, in so doing, he brings these narratives to the surface.
“Oh, Varenka, Varenka” /
From the series Motherland. Far Beyond the Polar
Circle, 2020, Digital smartphone colour moving
Georgs Avetisjans is a Latvian-Armenian artist. He holds an MA in Photography from the University of Brighton and has exhibited in China, Hungary, and Italy, amongst others. Most recently he was awarded the Riga Photography Biennial Award, the Magnum Photos Graduate Photographers Award, and the Different Worlds prize at Photon – Centre for Contemporary Photography in Ljubljana. He was a finalist of the Poznań Photo Diploma Award 2019. His photobook Homeland. The Longest Village in the Country was published during the Les Rencontres d’Arles and was launched with a solo show at the Latvian Museum of Photography in 2018. This publication was selected as one of the best books for that year by the British Journal of Photography and Calvert Journal. He has lectured at TJN, ISSP, Rīga Stradiņš University, and the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and has taken part in residencies like Docking Station in Amsterdam.