New East Digital Archive

Reviving ancient Udmurtian traditions with post-internet art

Through digital art that blends ancient rites with the unsettling otherworldliness of Web 1.0, the early Internet, two students in the Russian region of Udmurtia are breathing new life into traditional culture.

The artists, Yulia Manuilova and Ana Shmykova, created their own mixed-media fairytale based on old motifs from Udmurtian culture: a Finno-Ugrian minority found in central Russia.

They rented traditional Udmurtian attire and headed to the countryside to do a photoshoot with Manuilova as the model in the isolated village of Kivachi, as a nod to Udmurtians’ deep connection with nature. The frames also included scattered totems and ritual objects, warped, rendered, and collaged in glitch filters, and highlighted in green and red. “The choice of colours was not random. For Udmurtians, red stands for life, while green stands for nature,” explains Manuilova.

Seventeen-year-old Manuilova grew up in the small town of Mozhga, some 100 km away from Udmurtia’s capital of Izhevsk. She was raised speaking, reading, and watching TV in her native Udmurtian language, and although her family did not practice any of the pagan rituals associated with traditional Udmurtian culture, they did keep to a fairly traditional lifestyle. “We go to the bathhouse every Saturday, and on Sunday we eat traditional food, like kystybyi,” Manuilova shares. She had always been inspired by her native culture, but it wasn’t until last winter that she decided to experiment with art, joining forces with Shmykova.

“We gave traditional elements a contemporary, acid touch, to inspire and draw more young people into our culture,” Manuilova says. Part of that modern flare was a hologram of one traditional Udmurtian symbol — the eight-pointed star — which was collaged with different images. “The star represents the eternal movement of the Sun and the Earth, the diversity and interconnectedness of all beings,” Manuilova adds.

There are more than two million Finno-Ugrians in Russia, with most living close to the border with Estonia and Finland, by the Volga River across northeast and central Russia, and in the foothills of the Ural Mountains, where they flocked to avoid Christian and Islamic influences. The Finno-Ugric heritage has become a source of inspiration for a number of young artists in Russia, such as Polina Osipova, who weaves Chuvash elements through her intricate fashion designs, or Dima Komarov, who travelled to Mari-El last year to capture his native village on camera for The Calvert Journal.