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Ethnofuturism: a way of thinking and a vision of the world
N.A. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Member of the AiC Section

In the mid-1920's, the Udmurt art started manifesting its intense thirst for self-cognition. The widespread aspirations were expressed by Kuzebay Gerd who claimed that the Udmurts had ancient origins and a religion of their own, and that they were yearning to break the centuries-old clasp of impassable woods and moors that protected the Udmurts' sanctuaries from the outside world. The pre-war Udmurt literature gives an idea of the inconsistent, restless world of the Udmurt country of those times.

Works of figurative art of that period were not so multifarious or impressive. The vast potential of many-sided folk culture produced forms that were sometimes strikingly genuine and perfect. The art of Udmurt children, described by V. Lebedev, is an example. The process of "taking the spell off the world", manifested in children's drawings, is the first step in the way followed nowadays by many artists. In the totalitarian period, the experience of children's art, as well as of the natve art of the 1920's was completely thrown away.

The breakthrough came half a century later. On the ruins of traditional country culture, professional art and literature have started drawing the pictures of that culture.

It is important here to note that a literature and art school that originated in 1980's from Estonia has given a strong impulse to Finno-Ugric peoples for regenerating their ethnic identity through art¹. This school shaped in the period of restoration of Estonian national independence. Its main point was expounded in the manifest Ethnofuturism: The Way of Thinking And an Alternative For the Future² in an attractively simple way: futu means that the future survival of peoples as nations depends on self-sufficiency of their cultures as the only quality on which ethnic identity is based and which provides the survival of an ethnos.

The experience of reviving and comprehending the foundations of ethnic cultures of Finno-Ugric peoples has combined the study of what was accomplished in the pre-Soviet period with the effort to resist assimilators, be they the Russians or the Europeans. The school declared itself as a means of survival and a way of life of ethnic groups spread scattered over a large territory and yet about 25 million-strong. As the instrument to integrate the Finno-Ugrians the Internet was chosen because the Net makes impossible any centralisation, domination or ideological control. The authors of the manifest found the Net to be an appropriate environment for forest peoples whose population is dispersed. It is a safe way to retain one's identity while be included in the world of modern culture².

Stylistically diverse, ethnofuturism is nevertheless consistent in defending the importance of a vernacular language in shaping a person's identity. Moreover, it is particularly literature "based on the traditional culture of a small people" that is viewed by ethnofuturists as the instrument "of breaking the emerging global monoculture into many original patterns of thinking engaged in the intercourse and hence enriching rather than depleting each other"4. Literature is most efficient in finding new ways because, as Berk Vaher puts it, "it has the skill of returning to the stage of a bird's song".

Udmurt poet and philologist V. Shibanov analyses the creative process in ethnofuturism, pointing out that "ethnofuturism is mainly about perception rather than Weltanschauung", whereas "[...] in the foreground there is not a rational, logically shaped philosophical reflection but a profoundly emotional, deeply felt reaction of the modern human to the surrounding world"5.

The ethnofuturist school has been very successful in comprehending the unchanging ethnocultural factors in the Finno-Ugric art. Moreover, it has apparently started to generate new meanings that affect the art culture.

It is particularly important that the conferences on ethnofuturism in Tartu (1994, 1999, 2001) provide an opportunity to thoroughly analyse the evolution of ethnic identity. As the participants are not only theorists but artists, musicians and poets as well, these conferences have acquired forms that allow plunging into the art process, instead of remaining a passive outsider.

In Russia, the interest toward ethnofuturism was expressed through annual ethnofuturist exhibitions-festivals in Izhevsk, Udmurtia. The events were hosted by an underground art group Odomaa (in Udmurt, "The Native Land").

In Russia, the effort to comprehend the Finno-Ugric spiritual tradition and art has taken somewhat different forms from those in Finland or Estonia whose professional art had strong roots in the pre-revolutionary period. The art of the Soviet Baltic republics performed the mission of integrating the Western cultural messages and stylistic approaches in a different ideological space. The art of well-known Estonian artists invariably caused deep interest among their Finno-Ugrian colleagues in Russia whose experience of personal and ethnocultural self-realisation was very limited. In literature, the growth of "personal self-consciousness" among the Finno-Ugrians of Russia was clearly perceptible already in the 1920's. In arts, however, this process was much slower. Today, the creative personal impulse in figurative arts is still in the search of its form.

A somewhat peculiar response to ethnofuturism can be observed in the art of peoples of the Volga and Ural areas. Actualisation of the ancient pre-Christian cosmogonic and ethnogonic ideas became tied to the remnants of the agrarian and family rites. The titles of exhibitions-festivals held in Izhevsk are characteristic: "The House of a Young Bear" (Yegit gondyr veme), "The Native Udmurt Land" (Odomaa), "The Loveland" (Erumaa), "The Man-Fish" (Kalmez), "Tang'yra"6 (a traditional drum). Ancient ideas and ritual norms are used not only as the subject matter for easel painting or plastic art but also are experienced in performances. On the stage, traditionally important behavioural stereotypes are actualised and the culture of ancient rites acquires personal interpretation. Still, the unique personal elements play a secondary role and the characteristic attributes of the ethnic entity are viewed as more significant. Here lies the principal distinction between a postmodernist performance and a specifically ethnofuturist performance.

The form of a game, typical of a ritual action, apparently makes is easier to construct new models of behaviour, to fill the gap produced in the cultural tradition with the destruction of the ritual culture of the traditional rural community. The native culture being split in two - into the urban culture and the rural culture - is perceived by the most part of Udmurt artistic intellectuals with pain. Creation and performing of authorial happenings (produced by artists, actors and musicians) may serve as a substitute to participation in a traditional ceremony in which music, rhythm and gesture were fused in the associative and expressive whole. New forms of syncretism thus emerge that once existed in the traditional Finno-Ugric culture.

These actions accompany every exhibition-festival. The organic character of performances based on ancient rites becomes evident when staged in a village. The improvisational ease of the country folk joining a performance indicates that its meaning is close and clear to them. (Performances by Udmurt artists Y. Lobanov and Z. Lebedeva).

Now at last, enjoying their freedom of conscience, Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia can do what was impossible for decades: observe their traditional agrarian calendar. Paganism has turned out to be the actual basis on which ethnofuturism is developing. Traditional holidays are tied to the age-old ideas about fertility of the Earth, about space rhythms affecting the lives of humans and the Nature, about links between the three spheres of the universe.

When the King of the Seto is elected (in Võromaa, Estonia), the event is accompanied by good-natured jokes by Võro and Seto spectators. In contrast with this, crowds of thousand Udmurt prayers on the holiday of Gyron-Bydton - the day of the first furrow - testify to the stable system of values of their culture that has retained its ancient ecological adaptive dominant. In Estonia, holidays in Võromaa are rather an entertainment and a game. In Udmurtia, pagan prayer serves as a functioning communicative channel of the culture.

Another stable ethnocultural dominant of Udmurts, Komis, Maris and Mordovians is their patrimonial tradition. Its function is keeping the memory of the common ancestor and of belonging to a particular kin. The Udmurt cult of happiness and well-being is centred around the worship of the Progenitress. With centuries, the sanctuary where she was worshipped became the place for collective prayer and sacrifice. In the pre-revolutionary times, common prayers of the cult of Vorshud (happiness and well-being) in the summer and in the late autumn were served in special groves not only for particular families or villages but also for the whole country.

The cult of natural elements personified in the three supreme deities of the Finno-Ugric pantheon was partly extinguished by the worship of Christ while, in turn, Christianity acquired some characteristic features in the Finno-Ugric environment. The "double belief" is a certain state of mind when the idea of the supreme pagan God and the idea of Christ tend to merge. While the foundations of Christian ethics and recognised, the ancient pagan ideas about elemental phenomena are still retained and the patrimonial cult is still maintained by believers.

The picture of the world based on the ancient mythology of Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples was expressed in figurative art (mid-1970's to mid-1980's) by a handful of remarkable individualists: Khanty G. Rayshev, Udmurt M. Garipov, and Chuvash A. Mittov. Their art provoked fierce disputes in their homelands and it took a long time before their works reached the audience and gained recognition. Each of these artists had also a unique style. For Mensadyk Garipov, the rituals and holidays of his people are just a colourful show that he depicted authentically and with a good portion of humour. Rayshev, on the contrary, interprets his own life as a chain of acts connected to the rites. He perceives the existence as the constant struggle for life in the severe northern environment. Hunting and fishing in his paintings are interpreted as the fight with the forces of nature, while his images of birds and animals are close to portraits.7

Graphic works by Garipov show the daily life and the ancient handicrafts of an Udmurt village. In his poetic illustrations to the Legends, Myths and Fairy Tales of the Udmurt People (Izhevsk, 1986) the legendary past is shown with detailed exactness. His cycle Incantative Folk Songs of the Udmurts is a comprehensive survey of the myth: unlike in his previous works, the size and the volume of objects are noticeably transformed, the plasticity of movement and the general appearance of human body are changed, and planes are stretched in the vertical direction. The accentuated two-dimensional character of the space in the works by M. Garipov and G. Rayshev was quite novel in the art at the time. Relieving the spectator from recalculation of objects, it gives an impression of another, magical dimension in which the objects change their physical properties at the wizard's will.

The graphic works of A. Mittov, as well as those of M. Garipov, reached the public in a book. It was a collection of poems by Chuvash enlightener K. Ivanov titled Narspi (Cheboksary, 1976). The tragic fate of the main character, beautiful young woman Narspi, is caused by the annihilation of foundations of the traditional way of life and the disunity of the person and the nature. In illustrations to the book, deadening of customs is presented in mass scenes: the rite turns into a mechanical action and its participants become depersonalised. The characters and the nature look different only in the scenes where young people manifest their love despite interdictions.

M. Garipov, G. Rayshev and A. Mittov were repeatedly accused of "inept drawing" and in "inconsistency of expressive means". Their drawing is indeed far from academic correctness, though all three graduated from metropolitan high schools of art. Characters in their works are obviously countrymen who do agrarian labour; their bodies lack correct proportions and their movement lacks grace and smoothness. Instead of picturing ideal characters costumed as "common folk", these artists depict unique types easily recognisable in their ethnic context as personifications of emotional characteristics of their fellow countrymen.

Thus the self-portrait The Sunny Boy by G. Rayshev depicts a child looking like a vivid golden idol who discovers the world of the boundless spaces of the tundra with amazement. Here the child looks more authentic and genuine than if it were a realistic portrait.

It was G. Rayshev who made another important step that facilitated the advance of ethnofuturism. His cycle The Yugorian Legends (1985 to 1987) incorporated the whole epos of the Khanties.

In this cycle, time regains its property of being eternal, because the world of the dead is eternal, too. Timelessness is depicted as actually existent, as a part of the world inhabited by the living and separated from it merely with an invisible wall.

According to prominent Saint Petersburg scientist G. Lebedev, the tendency to counterpoising the world of the living and the world of the dead is one of the crucial factors for personal self-identification in a particular cultural topos. Moreover, a well-elaborated cult of the dead is a precondition for the living to enjoy spiritual freedom8. Both the scientist and the artist addressed this problem virtually at the same time. Similarity of their conclusions is not an accident. Culture retains its continuity only when the bonds with the past are perceived and comprehended.

The skill of reconstructing the stately flow of time and the stability of the country life with its triumph over the mortality of existence - this is what the village huts by G. Rayshev are about. The human is portrayed as the centre of the universe; people's businesses are full of eternal significance, postures are steady as those of idols, the opposition of male versus female is clearly designated. The older generation is followed by the young one. The home is perceived as a microcosm, with all its bonds clearly visible.

Since the end of 1980's the myth has become the territory where the cultural memory of peoples revived. Indeed, mythological motifs in art are perceived by some as a mere fashion, yet there are others to whom it is an internal need or who see it as a means of dialogue with other cultures.

The generation of artists who are now 35 and 40 year old had a good experience of avant-garde transformations and metamorphoses already at the start of their professional career. Young underground artists at the time (the end of 1980's to the mid-1990's), they found that for the situation in the Udmurt art to be changed, the existing practice of exhibitions had to be demolished. It was the only way to come out of the underground. Exhibitions organised by the association Lodka ("The Boat") did not attract young artists only; they actually affected the activities of the Artists' Union. A creative environment favorable for the development of a new youth culture was formed. For the first time, the contact of people of different arts was so organic and productive.

Modern art is not just younger but it enters the postmodernist situation with a wider range of problems. The motifs of socialist art and ecological disaster are perceived today as the context, while the motifs of archetypes in ethnic cultures, of the connection between the purpose of human existence and the supreme spiritual values, of the search for reference points in ethnocultural tradition come to the foreground.

Let us consider how the basic material substances of culture the human body, the object and the community are interpreted in ethnofuturism.

The body manifests itself mostly through ritual action or traditional game. Generally, ethnofuturist performances are based on Finno-Ugric rites.

Udmurt artist Y. Lobanov has found, beside his graphic art, another form of expression in the genre of monoperformance based on the principles of happening. This is a ritual narration with the speech as recitation and singing and the movement as rhythmical tramping accompanied by the percussion of a drum (performance Oti-Tati, Ottsy-Tattsy - "Here And There, This And That"). In the magic atmosphere of monoperformances the public, along with the artist, addresses the eternal themes as the birth and growth of a person, the love and the death, the sense of human life. What is common to all mankind is conceived here in its unique ethnic shape, the imperishable values appear in their ethnic manifestation.

The human body is viewed by ethnofuturists as a repository of mysterious forces that wake up in extreme situations. It may be a body of a shaman in convulsions like in the painting by A. Suvorov. Or it may be a figure symbolising the progenitress in whom the animal and human elements are combined, like in the panel by S. Orlov. Even the angel and the devil in conversation in the work by A. Timushev are rather symbolic than physical. His self-portrait Me And Him is constructed as a comparison of the physical and the spiritual.

An interesting and meaningful subject matter in ethnofuturism, rendered in accordance with certain rules, is the theme of the animal guardian, the ancestor and the man-animal. Stable archetypal images of the duck, the elk and the bear have been constantly used in Finno-Ugric cultures since the deep antiquity. We can see them in figured flints found in Volosovo (from the end of the 3rd to the mid-2rd millennium B.C.), as well as in the materials found in peatbogs of Vis (8th to 6th millennium B.C.), Gorbunovo and Shigir (3rd to 2rd millennium B.C.). The easily recognisable pattern and the specific style of these images remained constant through millenniums. The complete formal clarity of the worshipped totemic images was finally reached in the Perm animal style as a part of cultural tradition of the Finno-Permian peoples and other Finno-Ugrians.

Images of the bear in the posture of adoration (the sacrificial bear), the elk, the man-deer and the cheiropteric goddess, constantly varied in the plates of Permian animal style, became the distinctive mark of the Finno-Permian culture. Actualisation of this cultural layer today was caused, on the one hand, by the study of Finno-Ugric patrimonial traditions and, on the other hand, by the attraction of artists to the contemporary verbal and pictorial folklore. This motif is a counterpoint in the art of S. Orlov (Udmurtia). It is also addressed by P. Mikushev (Komi). Mikushev's paintings In the Search Of the Vanished Soul, The Dialogue, Duality, Evil Spirits Dancing, displayed at the exhibition in Viljandi (Estonia, summer 2001), reconstruct the ancient idea of mighty and formidable animal-people. Their stylistic affinity to the Perm bronze (4th millennium B.C. to 8th millennium A.D.) is obvious.

The image of a totemic ancestor is interpreted in a very interesting way in linear drawings by Kasim Galikhanov (Udmurtia), as well as in installations and panels by V. Nagovitsyn.

It looks as if these pictures themselves are aspired to become physical objects; they recall the ancient plastic figures as their prototypes and assert their generic affinity to them. There is a specific streak in the interest of Finno-Ugric artists in installation art. Namely, it looks as it the Finno-Ugric world positions itself in a multitude of different situations, aspired to find a physical form for each of them. The artist is focused not so much on the depicted object but rather on the physical character of the picture itself.

The motif of the bird has been particularly diverse and multifarious in ethnofuturist painting. The Rural Bird by Y. Dyrin looks good-natured and quaint, producing an association with a hen breeding human nestlings. It produces the impression of a reconstructed image of a majestic demiurge bird. In the works by S. Orlov, lovers are presented as native rural hens that move towards each other. The Angel Of Spring Flowers by Y. Dyrin, flying over a fantastic meadow, resembles rather a bird than an angel. Is this a new presentation of Ange Patyay - the Mordovian goddess of blossoming meadows? We can see a figure of a swan-woman even in the coat of arms of the Udmurt Republic.

In the modern Finno-Ugric art, the body of an animal is as perfect, powerful and mysterious as the human body. As a part of complex conceptual structures it denotes some models of the universe, as it did in antiquity. Today, a new aspect has emerged that is important for understanding the underlying ethnocultural values of this motif. Images of mighty animal-people ancestors serve today as a reminder of our responsibility to preserve the link between the person and the Nature, and to save the world from ecological catastrophes. What does the community mean to the ethnofuturists? Is it just a dream world? Or is it a utopia existing in the mind of an artist attracted by traditional values? Or is there some protest, some negative feature in this image of the community?

The works in which the motif of the community is used today are mostly fantastic. The motif of labour, so important in the recent past, is now understood as some action carried out within the Nature or even as a conjuration of the forces of Nature. It is interesting to notice some concurrence in the search of M. Garipov and G. Rayshev. Both tend to show the humans in confrontation with the forces of nature, while not implying that the dialogue between the humans and the elements will necessarily have a happy end. The atmosphere of dynamic and tense struggle penetrates the painting The Pike, a Man And a Boat by G. Rayshev. In the etching The Fisherman from the series The Udmurt Conjurations by M. Garipov, the struggle between the Big Pike and the fisherman goes deep into the underlying layer of the motif, conveying the atmosphere of magical fight between the animal and the human.

The Udmurt painter V. Mikhaylov has made a rapid evolution in the last five or seven years. His favourite motif has always been the village labour, interpreted as the motif of a human within the nature. The labour process is of secondary important to V. Mikhaylov. His characters submit to the natural rhythm of seasons of the year and the time of day. In The Black Moon, fishing is set into the gravitation field of the luminous eye of an enormous totemic silvery fish. Here the ancient, the primary and the modern are fused inseparably. Likewise, To the Hunting by P. Mikushev depicts elk-people resembling rather archaic warriors than hunters. This work carries us into the times when the creators of Karelia and Onega petroglyphs lived. Its monumental stateliness, definiteness and rhythmic harmony allude to the ancient art of the region.

The motif of creation is typical to Mari painter A. Ivanov. In his paintings Under the Mark of the Bull, Under the Mark of the Bear and The Creators of the World, people are shown as created and protected by their ancestral totems. Despite the external tranquillity and the static character of postures, these works are very dynamic. Colouring is intensive, the technique is vivid. A. Ivanov creates a cosmogony of his own; his demiurges are an original interpretation of Finno-Ugric mythology.

Typically, ethnofuturist artists highly estimate the value of personal statement. Here lies the essential difference of ethnofuturism from postmodernism with its inclination to clichйs, propensity to quoting, and condescending attitude to the search of truth.

As concerns the art process, artists tend to follow two different strategies can be observed. Some proceed from the religious ideas and ritual practice of the country culture. Others attempt at synthesising the ethnocultural experience and creating worlds of their own through performances and figurative art. M. Garipov, G. Rayshev, V. Belykh, V.Mikhaylov and Y. Lobanov can be considered as belonging to the first category. S. Orlov, A. Timushev, Y. Dyrin, K. Galikhanov, P. Mikushev and A. Ivanov belong to the second category. Some of these artists, born and grown up in the country, came to the town to get higher education, while others are townsfolk with rather feeble links to the traditional culture; not all of them even speak the vernacular language.

A new thinking in art is thus arising through reconsideration of traditional cultures in their totality, including rites, beliefs, verbal and pictorial folklore. There is no direct link between the myth and the ornamental pattern. Geometrical symbols and colours used in weaving, embroidery and carving convey a set of encrypted symbols that even a bearer of the culture cannot fully grasp. However, the contrast of the symbolism and the sign language of these ornaments from those of the traditional academic school gave the ethnofuturist artists an impulse for the search of new expressive means appropriate to the ethnocultural tradition.

Some artists found it essential not to confine themselves to studying the pictorial folklore but learned the language of their people, while others get their impulse from the memories of their childhood spent in the country. "There is no culture", says Y. Dyrin (Erzya), "but the roots exist. These country roots [...] they remain in your soul [...] They rise to your consciousness through your hand holding the pencil and they pass to the canvas [...] they are tied to your childhood memories [...] it begins speaking through you".9 With years, a person comes to comprehend the ethnic determinants in what once seemed most precious - in the person's "I". The ethnic reminds of itself in many ways: through the life tempo, through the person's gustatory preferences, through the composition of works. The problem is particularly serious for native artists who are Russian-speakers. It is more difficult for them to see the link between the ordinary and the high in the local culture, to find the sacred behind a custom. In this case discovering the culture of one's own people can be compared with authorised translation.

Female painters, actors and poets find in ethnofuturism the means to display their gender positions in art. This may be a result of the Finno-Ugrian woman having always been the bearer of ethnic stereotypes of behaviour. Among the Udmurts, the woman's role in shaping the ethnic psychology has been particularly decisive.10 The recent sociological studies reveal higher intolerance toward the Russians among Udmurt women, which is quite understandable in the context of the currently growing process of ethnic identification.

Kauksi Ülle and Irina Orehhova propagandise a new system of children's education that would agree with the values of Finno-Ugric culture. Above all, education must proceed in vernacular and be based of traditional ethics. In their opinion, global religions bear totalitarian attitudes. The works by Udmurt painter Z. Lebedeva touch upon the deep foundations of aesthetics of Finno-Ugric cultures. In her weaving she uses "live" materials like stem and flowers of plants that retain their natural colour and fragrance. Her dolls are made in the traditional way, with the use of genuine home-made fabric. In her work with children, she teaches them to understand ancient characters and traditions.

Participation of Russian artists in ethnofuturism is a separate topic. Those whose families have been living in a Finno-Ugric territory for generations find it easier to orient themselves in the local spiritual culture. Today, instead of marching in a column when there was no time even to glance at each other and it was demanded that everyone look only forward and above, we abruptly broke our ranks and stopped. And we found the expression in our faces and our speech to be very dissimilar. This feeling of cultural difference is now transforming into a concept of the common multicultural room. The need for a productive cultural dialogue becomes obvious. Comprehending the different, we learn to understand ourselves.

The specific character of ethnic and cultural relations in the Volga and Ural areas is caused also by the formerly cultivated picture of two different subcultures living in parallel spaces. One of them, predominantly urban, was the Russian one; the other one, rural, was Finno-Ugric since ancient times. On closer examination this picture turns out to be false, as factory settlements were multiethnic from the beginning. During almost 250 years of living together and marrying each other, the Russians and the Finno-Ugrians in the area drew closer in their way of life and in their material culture, although each of them retained their language.

It took me nearly all my life to comprehend the links between the two cultures and to see the undistorted picture of my native land (the topos, according to G. Lebedev) in which I ought to identify myself. Since my childhood I had a feeling of something mysterious going on close to me; people lived, spoke, dressed and thought in a different way. That was a parallel universe. Once, during an expedition, I finally made a breakthrough from one space to the other. It was a journey in time. The other world was strange but attractive. A ceremony in the sacred grove of the Udmurts was a miracle to me. It is not an accident that the Russian language retained the collective ethnonymic chud¹ for Finno-Ugrians. This name refers to "wizard people" who once worshipped the playful birch. The word was used already in the hagiography of St. Stephan of Perm compiled by Yepifaniy the Sage. The sacred grove that I visited was of birches, too! I experienced the hidden meanings revealed by V. Dahl² through my own encounter with ancient culture. All of this simply because of my place of birth.

Images of the Finno-Ugric world in the works of Russian artists are associated with the world of natural elements and with reflection on the origins of human culture. Their style, marked with a Finno-Ugric "intonation", develops into a way of self-expression. Likewise, the speech of Russians in the Ural and Volga areas has some distinctive features; intonations borrowed from Finno-Ugric languages make it appreciably differ from other Russian dialects.

The paintings of V. Okun' bring us again to the animal mythology. We can see the mighty deity the Elk hurrying through millenniums with the shaman as its rider. His decorative and applied works, however, are linked to the ethnocultural tradition in a more indirect way.

Leather and felt, the traditional stuff of Finno-Ugric handicraft, are used already for a long time by A. Pilin. Without deliberate emphasis, his leather works bear a distinct mark of the traditional style. This is evident also in his felt works, for example in the mantelet Sounds Of the Sun. His aesthetics of demonstrating the basic properties of the material, its softness, volume and natural colour, is emphasised by hand treatment. All this brings him close to the local tradition. The panel by Y. Lisovskiy The Dance of the Sun, though solved in a purely avant-garde manner, refers directly to a rite of the solar cult.

In the catalogue of the international exhibition of Finno-Ugric art Ugriculture (Helsinki, 2001) there is a chapter presenting the work "[...] of artists who lack Finno-Ugric roots". Kati Kivimäki in her article refers to them as "converts"12. This seems to require a more detailed consideration. On the verge of the 19th and the 20th centuries, the interest to the Kalevala in Russia was so enormous that the epos was published several times. Indeed, those editions can hardly be compared with the works that made a name for A. Gallen-Kallela whose art, too, enjoyed a wide response in Russia in the context of the rise of symbolism.

Neither did the generation of 1920's remain untouched by the great epos. The Kalevala was illustrated by artists of the Filonov school13. This illustrative cycle is now a subject of intent research.

Hence there has been a constant interest in Russia to the Finno-Ugric cultural tradition. It took a longer time, however, to comprehend the Finno-Ugric cultural space and the history of Finno-Ugric culture.

Perhaps it is now high time to pay homage to the work done by two remarkable individuals who made a huge step in the dialogue of the Russian culture with the cultures of Finno-Ugric peoples. These were eminent Erzyan ethnographer M. Markelov and Russian painter I. Yefimov. Their unique cooperation took place during the expeditions to Mordovia, Udmurtia and Bashkiria organised since the end of 1920's till 1930 by the Central Museum of Ethnography and directed by Markelov. This resulted in the amazing project of preparing two fundamental works The Erzyan Epos and The Agrarian Cults of East European Peoples written by Markelov and illustrated by Yefimov. These studies remained unpublished despite the desperate efforts by the scientist who was sent into exile to Siberia, and by the artist who stayed loyal to his colleague. Yefimov and his family still had the spirit to preserve some materials. These have definitely remained up-to-date, while the Yefimov's illustrations appear to fall in line with ethnofuturism14.

There is a variety of opinions as to the importance of ethnofuturism. In Estonia, it is believed that ethnofuturism is the only entirely new art school from that country that gained international recognition.15 Prominent art critic Heie Treier, however, has now changed her mind. Her point is that the modern Estonian art is focused mainly on all-European cultural values and on the problem of the eternal. Estonian artists and poets inspired by ethnofuturism - like Peeter Laurits, Sven Kivisildnik and Raoul Kurvits - are small in number.

Nevertheless, the firm tendency among the Estonian applied artists to study the foundations of the traditional Finno-Ugric culture, at which Treier pointed in her earlier articles, is still there.16 Not only the art of the foreman of the senior generation Prof. Kaljo Põllu from the Estonian Academy of Arts but the decorative and applied works, based on the findings of expeditions to Finno-Ugric areas of Russia, by young artists like Kärt Summatavet are a good evidence.

When Summatavet explains her work in jewelry, she points at the importance and, at the same time, difficulty of comprehending the ancient common language of Finno-Ugric culture in its entirety. It is like the things are singing and telling you their mystic secrets, she says. To comprehend these secrets of culture, there must be silence and concentration.

In the modern multicultural world, ethnofuturism offers a channel for ethnocultural self-identification of Finno-Ugric peoples, as well as a means of dialogic comparison of ancient and modern layers of their cultures. By integrating the most important symbols of the Finno-Ugric ethnocultural tradition, ethnofuturism enters the dialogue with the art of other peoples.

[1]    From Russian chudnoy, chudnyy, i.e. “strange, miraculous”. – Translator’s note.
    Vladimir Dahl, the author of the hitherto only exhaustive dictionary of Russian language published 1880‑1882). – Translator’s note.

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