If ever there was a place that existed as much in the imagination as it did in reality it was the North Caucasus. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was exiled to this mountainous region on the southern edge of Russia in 1820 and, inspired by the majestic mountains and local people he wrote the romantic Poem The Prisoner of the Caucasus creating a version of the Caucasus that has been stuck in the Russian mindset ever since.
Pushkin invented a highly romanticised land of wild, rugged beauty, of equally wild and fearless mountain warriors, of beautiful women, a place of adventure; somewhere for aristocratic Russians to escape the confines of the civilised world. Danger lurked below its lofty mountains, within it’s misty ravines. Many Novels were written that followed in this literary, Russian version of the Caucasus, most notably A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov and two novels by Leo Tolstoy, The Cossacks and Hadji Murat.
It was these 19th century novels that made me want to find the modern Caucasus, to see the majestic mountains for myself and to understand the complex, multi ethnic cultures of this mountainous region that the over generalised descriptions of the ‘literary Caucasus’ only glimpsed and, to varying degrees, stereotyped.
The North Caucasus today is still thought to be a place of danger and war, and this, for the most part, is a misconception. In December 2017 I travelled around the mountain villages of Dagestan with local Artist Gabibulla Gabibaev and local photographer Shamil Gadzhidadaev. I then travelled to Grozny in Chechnya, and on to finish my trip in Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia. The series of paintings I produced from this trip along with the writing are an attempt to document the little known realities of this fascinating and misunderstood region.
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