Accepted Paper:

'Model of a summer festival': engagements with a narrative object in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Russian Federation  


Alison Brown (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers how a nineteenth century model has sparked narratives that confirm and challenge Sakha history, and examines the role of artists as people who chronicle and keep active Sakha culture, in a context where cultural knowledge is being revived following the end of the Soviet era.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on a mammoth ivory model in the British Museum of yhyakh - the Sakha summer festival - which today is celebrated as a national holiday in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Far East. The model depicts ritual activities as well as athletic contests and ceremonial architecture, and is the earliest known surviving representation of a celebration which many Sakha people consider to be central to who they are. Yhyakh has undergone many transformations since the model was carved 150 years ago. During the Soviet era, acknowledging Sakha deities was discouraged; in urban areas yhyakh was not celebrated for decades and in rural areas it took a modest form. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of ethnic nationalism, however, Sakha arts and ritual practices are being revisited and access to museum collections is key to this process.

In 2015 the British Museum loaned the model to the National Arts Museum of the Sakha Republic in Yakutsk where it impressed and intrigued in equal measure. In this paper I will recount how it sparked narratives that both confirm and challenge Sakha understandings of yhyakh, of Sakha history, and of the role of artists as people who chronicle and keep active Sakha culture. By examining how this enigmatic object has featured in cultural revitalization processes in a context where local people continue to experiment with establishing political autonomy, I consider the implications of the project for breaking through silence and for museum practice broadly.

Panel P015
Breaking the Silence: Heritage Objects and Cultural Memory