The Dead Souls, a Russian still life.
In the alleys of a Russian cemetery, the souls of heroes and artists float amidst the ethereal beauty of the flowers left long ago by the living.
During my four years in Russia, I tried to capture the Russian cultural identity.! This Russian Soul, aka «Russian Ducha», is alive, beyond folklore, in a geographic space, we are mentally familiar with and in a temporal space, at odds with our occidental chronology : is this really today? or are we back to the 70s or even before…
In search of the Russia Ducha, I traveled around the country, cities, suburbs and remote villages. Cemeteries tell about the history and cultural values of a society, past and recent. Russian cemeteries are fascinating : they bear the imprint of Soviet times when religious symbols were forbidden and replaced by materialistic representations of the dead. These monuments represented the deceased's professional occupation and their role in the soviet society. No crosses on the tombstones but instead, statues or engravings of the dead in full uniform - military, cosmonaut or dancer…
For some years the cult of heroes has been actively revived in Russia. The events in Ukraine and Crimea have weakened the relationship with Europe and the United States and fostered a renewed interest in nationalism. One of the pillars of the national identity is Russian history, from Peter the Great to the Great Patriotic War (World War 2), celebrated and staged in every public event and in the mass media.
What started as a documentary project on cemeteries in Russia and some former Soviet republics evolved into a more poetic treatment of the subject. In Moscow, the famous cemetery of Novodievitchi,, since its construction in the sixteenth century and up to present day, has been the cemetery of heroes with more than 20,000 tombs of Russian nobles, artists, intellectuals, scientists and high-ranking military from the Soviet times. Walking around the cemetery, I could not help noticing the flowers on the tombs. In Russia flowers play a large role in the daily relationship between men and women, and by extension between the living and the dead.
Due to the harshness of the climate, in cemeteries flowers are most often artificial and sheltered by weathered glass bells, creating a strange, surrealistic atmosphere. The power of the flowers outshined the power of the statues and monuments to the heroes. The obvious receded in front of the invisible.
©2018 Pascale Bazire