Siberian Photos Help Connect Argentina To Its Asian Ancestry

There's something strangely familiar about the 99 images on display at the Abadía Art and Latin American Studies Center in Buenos Aires.

Siberian Photos Help Connect Argentina To Its Asian Ancestry
Susana Reinoso

BUENOS AIRES — A journey through time with some surprising results. At the risk of oversimplifying things, that's what came to mind after visiting a photo exhibit called "The Other Frontiers: Photographing the Fast East" (Las otras fronteras. Fotografiando el Far East).

On display at the Abadía Art and Latin American Studies Center, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, the exhibit features exactly 99 digital copies of black and white photographs that are at once beautifully exotic and historically significant. The images, captured more than a century ago and copied from original gelatin silver prints belonging to the Russian Ethnography Museum in Saint Petersburg, are of native inhabitants of Siberia.

Staring out of the pictures are the faces of hunters and farmers, their faces weather-beaten by Siberia's frigid climate; women with particular garbs depending on whether or not they were married; children; and shamans putting their rituals on display. The photos are fascinating in and of themselves, but have a special resonance here in South America.

The copies were made by the MUVIM (the Valencia Museum of Illustration and Modernity) in Spain. Indeed, the show is a collaborative project between MUVIM, La Abadía, the Ethnography Museum and Montevideo's MAPI (Museum of Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art) in Uruguay. It was previously seen in Valencia, Montevideo and in Corrientes, north of Buenos Aires.​

Clarín visited the exhibition in the company of Gregori Berenguer, the curator in Valencia; MAPI director Facundo de Almeida; and Abadía's director (Miguel Frías) and exhibitions chief (Andrea González). The show, which runs through Nov. 11, offers a record of the daily lives, customs and rituals, but also subsistence methods, economy and environmental relations of a people whose presence in Siberia and the Far East of Asia predates the arrival of humans in the Americas.

For Berenguer, the photographs highlight the cultural ties uniting the Americas with Siberia, and offer hints regarding the origins of Native American ritual practices like shamanism. "You can generally view the Americas from two angles," he says. "There's the image as seen from the West. But is this show, we see it from the East. It underscores the fact that the first colonization did not happen across the Atlantic but along the Bering Strait."

We owe this fascinating cartography of native families, dresses and customs to the foresight of the government of Imperial Russia, which sent photographers and ethnographers to Siberia to register the lives of its communities around the turn of the 20th century. These were also adventurers and lovers of folk cultures, and included such names as Konstantin Maslennikov, Serguei Rudenko, Nikolai Moguilyanski and Alexei Makarenko. Their pictures are testament, furthermore, to the vastness of the Russian Empire, which stretched then from the Caucasus to the ends of the Asian continent.

"It is thought that the peoples of northern Asia and their native American descendants tended to conserve certain, very old cultural traits that were registered and documented at the moment of their contact with white men," Berenguer observes. The most notable example, he says, are "practices of shamanic origins, which we observe in both groups of peoples, the Siberians and native Americans. All of them are historically descended from the peoples who inhabited the far northeastern corner of the Eurasian continent."

Perhaps the most surprising thing on visiting the exhibition is to think that even as far south as Argentina, our earliest inhabitants came not from Europe, as so many later arrivals did, but from across an entirely different sea. In the catalog that accompanies the exhibit, Facundo de Almeida points out how genetic studies in recent decades "tie certain native American populations to Mongoloid populations of North Asia, based on some of the affinities they present. These similarities are also visible in the physical traits of current Siberian and American groups."

Interestingly, Native American population groups also appear to be linked to non-Mongoloid groups from eastern Europe, further evidence of Siberia's genetic and cultural variety. The exhibition puts this fascinating fusion on display.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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