Revive Altai cultural/environmental sustainability

by Altai Mir University
Altai sand-painter
Altai sand-painter

Your donations have been supporting Altai artists to create videos of Altai legends using the medium of "painting" with sand on a light table.

In an effort to improve their professionalism, they have reached out to the Carolyn Leaf of Canada, who is a pioneer in such painting. She recommended that they develop the skills, not only to make images with the sand, but to actually animate their images through manipulation of the sand. For that, our team will need better equipment as well as seed funding.

So our Altai project leaders have been not only investigating opportunities for such funding within the Altai Republic governmental ministries of culture and tourism, but also reaching out for international grants and fellowships. Here in the US, we are supporting this effort by using grant databases to search for likely funding sources. We have been encouraging them to use a business model---selling their DVDs to tourists---in addition to their philanthropic model.

This work is important because of its global implications. Many Native Americans recognize Altai as the starting point of their journey across the Bering Straits. Altai legends are therefore important not only to the indigenous peoples of Russia, but also of the Americas.

Thank you for your ongoing support. It makes a huge difference.


Goddess Umai
Goddess Umai

Our project leader Svetlana has organized an eclectic exhibition of images of the goddess Umai, who is the Queen of Heaven in Altai lore. The collection of images from different artists will be shown this month at the annual Altai cultural celebration, El Oyin.

Additionally, five stories have been recorded in Russian and Altai language and illustrated using a unique and beautiful sand-painting technique. Those five stories and five more have been translated into English and professionally edited by a native speaker of English.

The videos are being put on DVDs and will be marketed during the summer tourist season and proceeds will pay for the professional services of the artists. They will also be made available to schools, to aid in teaching English and Altai language (which was almost obliterated during Communism).

Your donations are paying for the out-of-pocket costs that have enabled the projects to move forward. Thank you for your continued support.

First public performance of Altai stories
First public performance of Altai stories

Traditional Altai stories, recovered from elders, told by Altai throat-singers, and visually depicted using exquisite sand-painting, are ready to be published on CDs in Russian and Altai. English versions are currently being translated. These CDs are a breakthrough in making sacred Altai lore accessible not only to ethnologists and visitors, but to Altai children as well. These stories are a critical link to maintaining traditional Altai culture.

"The group has worked for free for almost six months, and they would continue to work so," said project leader Svetlana Katynova. "Thank you for your contribution. It makes publication possible, so the project will be self-sustaining through sale of CDs." 

They are finishing "Wisdom of the Altai - from time immemorial." Now our group will work on a new project: "The Cradle of the Mother Umai" - "Umai-Ene Cabaye", dedicated to the patroness of women and children. "The image of this deity is very common in the Turkic world," Svetlana said, "but the Altai people have the most beautiful myths."

Altai legends video screen shot
Altai legends video screen shot

When I wrote last, our Altai project leader Svetlana Katynova and her colleague Zhanna An were gathering the resources to make video presentations of Altai legends that Svetlana had documented by interviewing Altai elders.

They were in the process of contracting with some of Altai's world-famous vocal artists to tell the stories in Russian and Altai languages. Two of these recordings have now been made.

The visual part of the video is being produced with a remarkable process called "sand painting." The images are formed by the artist moving around sand that has been spread across a back-lit screen. The fluidity and expressiveness of the medium is delightful. A screen shot of a work-in-progress is shown above. The artist's hand is visible in the lower right quadrant, making the crane's wings.

Svetlana has received some government funding for this project, but unfortunately not enough to do all of the legends that they would like to present. Thank you for your contribution, which gets our team incrementally closer to this important documentation.

Svetlana and Zhanna
Svetlana and Zhanna

The short Siberian summer is over and the snow-line is creeping downward toward the valleys. Svetlana made good use of the car that was donated last spring, taking promising young throat-singers to festivals where they can be immersed in the threatened Altai culture. But it is not only the youngsters who benefit from the gatherings of the clans; when long-time activists like Svetlana get together, they join forces to bring forth new opportunities.

For years, Svetlana and our old friend Zhanna An have been collecting myths, legends, and fairy tales with the intention of publishing them. This work is time-critical because the elders who remember the times before the Soviet destruction of Altai's indigenous culture have almost died off. Svetlana has wanted to make an e-book and Zhanna has wanted to make videos with sand animation.

Zhanna has recently been working at radio "Voice of Siberia," which planned a project called "Legends of Altai," but it was never made. Now, working together, Zhanna and Svetlana have fully selected the text and they are negotiating for recording studio time. Readers have been selected from among National Theatre actors, teachers, internationally recognized traditional musicians Nogon Shumarov and Bolot Bairyshev, and of course Svetlana's young proteges. 

Svetlana says that the planning is all happening around her kitchen table. We're grateful for your continuing donations. They contribute toward communication and transportation costs, both of which take a big chunk out of the shoe-string budget.


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Organization Information

Altai Mir University

Location: Shoreline, WA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Carol Hiltner
Shoreline, Washington United States

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