Steppe Hospitality: a conversation with photographer Gerel Eredzhenova3 min read

 In Culture, Interview, Russia
Lossi 36 sits down with Gerel Eredzhenova to talk about her photo diary of Mongolia and her experience organizing Kalmykia’s first contemporary art exhibition. This is just one of the series of conversations with artists of Kalmyk Contemporary. 

What is your photography and art background?

In general, I have always been interested in and loved to take photos. I do not have any formal education neither in art, nor photography. In 2018 I applied and was admitted to attend a seminar in Moscow by Clement Saccomani, Managing Director of NOOR. Other than that seminar, that was my only formal art education.

How did you come to curate and organize Mu?

I helped found and publish a lot of work in conjunction with TODO Media [an online Kalmyk media company]. We write stories on topics of art, culture and history of Kalmykia. Vika Sarangova approached me online with the idea of organizing contemporary art exhibitions in partnership with TODO Media. She also connected me with Gerel Puteeva and Kristina Dobr. I was inspired and dove into it immediately. As I was the only person present in Elista [the capital of Kalmykia] at that moment, I did the legwork: venue, equipment, and more. Everyone I talked to liked the idea and was willing to help. Everything clicked seamlessly. 

Tell us more about your month-long journey to Mongolia, where a lot of your photography takes place.

It was a long dream of mine to visit the place that our ancestors left centuries ago. When the opportunity to go to Mongolia arrived in very short notice of 3 days – I packed my bag and never looked back. 

My initial idea was to create a movie. I had to postpone that idea for the future,  due to lack of skills and gear. I only took my camera with me and tried to capture as many moments of life as I could. And there were more moments to remember than I could record. One month is definitely not enough to fully embrace it.

What are the similarities between Mongolian culture and your own?

First of all, hospitality is common to all nomadic cultures. Wherever we went, we were welcomed. People that we met shared their food and shelter with us. They even gave us their beds and slept on the floor! Just like Mongola, Kalmyks are very hospitable and open to guests – especially in small villages. The other similarity is that both are very laid back and not hard-wired to planning. This can be annoying at home but felt  very natural while I was there. 

What is the reaction of the Mu exhibit in Kalmykia, in other parts of Russia, and abroad?

Mu was the first contemporary art exhibition ever in Kalmykia. Though it was unusual – overall the perception was very warm. A lot of people attended the exhibition, some of them several times. The main concern was that it lasted just 6 days. But this was due to some of the artists coming back to Moscow and Berlin. Apart from Kalmykia the exhibition was supported by Agasshin Beautyzine and several influencers. With their help, the exhibition was able to gain the attention, and ultimately, attendance, of many young people in our republic.

You can follow Gerel Erendzhenova’s work on Instagram here and view Lossi 36’s virtual exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary.

All photos in this article by Gerel Erendzhenova. 

Featured image: Gerel Erendzhenova / Katherine Leung
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