Growing up in Siberia, my hometown of Yakutsk hadn’t felt like home to me.
Every summer, during the most important Sakha celebration of the Summer’s arrival, I was surrounded by all colors of the rainbow; the shine of silver and gold of the jewelry men and women wore blinded me under the bright sun. Women passed by in long flowy dresses, with headpieces locking their forehead, their hair braided with silver pendants. I wore the same dresses, wore the same headpieces and necklaces, but I felt like an impostor among them. I couldn’t make out what was so important and where does the pride of people, wearing traditional fur coats, speaking Sakha language, come from.
I was convinced my home is in some other bigger, whiter cities of Russia, and not in the Sakha Republic, the eastern part of Siberia. A place that wasn’t, in 12-year-old Aina’s opinion, as back in progress and didn’t care all that much about ‘ridiculous’ tendency to preserve its cultural aspects—a cause that I deemed useless in the 21st century. In a way, I was trying so hard to become white, to be perceived like the slavic girls I saw on TV and internet, who were always called pretty, trendy and smart; I envied these girls so much as the only portrayal I saw of people like me in media was those yellow-skinned, slow villains with crooked teeth and horrible accent.
So when I got invited to a camp on the other side of my country, I was so thrilled. «Finally! A chance to prove I’m just like Russians. Just like everyone.»
However, I wasn’t really prepared to be the odd one, no matter how much I tried. «Where is Yakutia? Abroad?». I don’t blame kids here, asking such weird questions about my race, although these only made me feel isolated. Whenever I spoke, I felt like I couldn’t divide myself from my ethnicity in their eyes.
When I returned home, it crashed on me: I wasn’t Russian enough, but it was me who built the wall between myself and Yakutia. What was it that made me feel ‘superior’ to all the people around me? I tried so hard to separate myself from harmful stereotypes by just accepting it as a norm and trying to be different. In the end it only harmed me and my relationships with my culture. I felt stuck, hopeless and angry.
So I started to try to mend things by first learning Yakutian and Siberian history, and now I feel embarrassed about being ignorant of my own people’s struggles. I was blind to the fact that even our grandiose Summer celebration got re-introduced to Yakutia only in the 90’s after the USSR ceased to exist. People had to fight for the right to just express their heritage, to tell that they exist, to not to forget their roots in order to be taken seriously.
But the fight isn’t over yet. There are still things to be done to have an even brighter future. And I want to be a part of it, contribute to the change by at least helping the overall representation image on a global scale.
I started talking more about Yakutia on my Instagram account — talking about our culture, our capital, history and politics. That’s when I realized what I really want to do as an artist: raise awareness and represent Yakutia through my art.
I was lining out twists and tangles of traditional patterns on my canvas one time as I received a message. «Thank you for your content, Aina, you really inspired me to do more art and think about my culture myself!» This felt so refreshing and I thought that even if only one person felt this way because of my art, I shouldn’t stop and I was doing the right thing.