The Siberian art expeditions to the Sel’Kupy tribes in the 1910s & 20s. Dmitriĭ Innokentʹevich Karatanov.

Dmitriĭ Innokentʹevich Karatanov (1874-1952) studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts but left the Academy in 1896 before finishing his course of study to return to Krasnoiarsk. He began teaching at the High School of Arts in Krasnoiarsk in 1910; many well-known local artists studied under him. He was named an “Honored Artist of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic” in 1948, 20 years before his fellow expedition artist Lekarenko recieved the same honour in 1967.

The main theme of Karatanov’s work was always the Siberian landscape. This is how he approached the Selkup peoples. Karatanov delivers us, in the most part, simply the landscapes and spaces the Selkups lived in and lived from.

The Selkups originated in the basin of the great Ob River, a cross breed mixture between the aboriginal Yeniseian peoples and Samovedics from the Sayan mountains early in the first millennium.  They were fine for the first thousand years. They thrived. They survived the Mongol hordes who came in the 13th century and subjugated them. Around 1628, the Russians came. They conquered the area and the Selkups were subjugated once more. The Selkups tried an uprising against Russian rule but were beaten by the gun, easily defeated.

By the 17th century, some Selkups relocated up north to live alongside the Taz & Turukhan rivers. They hunted, fished and bred reindeer. The Russians wouldn’t let them be. A century later Russian settlers to the area began Russians hunting the Selkups reindeer which made breeding reindeer next to impossible. The Russians attempted to convert the Selkups to Christianity and to Russian-ise them. The Selkups clung tightly, hung on to their complex ancient rituals and customs. Their identity. 

When Karatanov arrived in 1920 it was well into the Soviet Period. The Selkups were being systematically forced to adopt a more settled and less nomadic lifestyle and their traditional culture had already suffered a severe decline. The Selkups have been facing an ongoing slow death – a cultural extinction by assimilation from Russian culture – ever since. Karatanov, with his fellow artists Vargin and Lekarenko were recording a dying culture.

It’s an old story. Today they continue to suffer – from racial discrimination, unemployment, addiction and alcoholism.

The work of Karatanov, Vargin and Lekarenko is all that remains of an ancient people, their culture and their time and place on the planet.

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