Category Archives: Beginnings 2019

Beginnings 2019, Human

Message in a Bottle

Photography by Toma Peiu, Luiza Pârvu

River Flows is a photographic series capturing everyday landscapes from the Aral Sea basin. The Naryn-Syr Darya flows down from the high mountains on Kyrgyzstan through the Fergana Valley and then into the Kazakh steppe, towards the North Aral Sea. 

In these images captured in 2018, we seek to capture the relation between this body of water, the people and landscapes that it connects.

This series is a “message in a bottle” between Shamaldy-Say (Kyrgyzstan) on the Naryn river; Kyzylorda and Birlik (Kazakhstan) on the Syr Darya; Aral (Kazakhstan) and Muynaq (Qaraqalpaqstan, Uzbekistan), the two port towns that used to lie on the shores of the sea. We hope that it inspires new conversations between these communities and the geographical and cultural legacy that connects them.

Shamaldy-Sai, Kyrgyz Republic. April 2018

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Beginnings 2019, Non-Human

Tanais and Tal

“Tanais and Tal” 

This book tells the story of the water being Tanais and her love for Tal, a willow tree that grows on the river bank. One day Tanais wakes up and cannot find her beloved Tal in her usual place. Tanais sets out in search of her: she flows long distances, resisting people who want to divert her to irrigate their rice fields. She encounters friends, meets reed beds and finally meets a little girl. The girl tells her that Tal could not have run away, since trees cannot walk. What happens next to Tanais, overwhelmed by grief?

(In Russian)

Beautifully illustrated by Deniz Nazarova, “Tanais and Tal” was written for the river exhibition by children’s author and social scientist Altyn Kapalova.

A video version of this tale is available in Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Russian (see our YouTube channel)

Beginnings 2019

Confluence, 2019

Deniz Nazarova

Visual diary

“Confluence” is the story of the project inspired by the discoveries made by the scholars of the ‘social life’ of the Naryn-Syr Darya river. In collaboration with artists, they decided to gather in Naryn aiming to share their findings as an exhibition. During these 10 days, we taught each other, expanded the limits of our imagination, discovered Naryn from the ethnographic point of view, and shared a lot of other experience, the most interesting of which appear in this diary.

Beginnings 2019, Human, Stories

The Untold Life of Bridges

Jeanne Féaux de la Croix, Deniz Nazarova, Cholpon Zhumanalieva, Aidar Zhumabaev

Archival and Contemporary Photographs

A bridge is a piece of magic. They make things possible that were not possible before. Thinking a bridge assumes that there is something you want to step over, across, not have contact with. They are always placed, and can also be removed, very deliberately. Bridges are like arrows that point in two directions at the same time. But they also need maintenance, and people interact with them in all sorts of ways: trading, marrying, strolling across bridges. The building and destruction of bridges along the Naryn and Syr Darya river has changed human interactions on the river banks dramatically. Every bridge has its own story.

Construction of a hanging bridge not far from the district centre of Toktogul, 1960

Laboriously created, bridges are miracles, taking travellers into a third dimension. Bridges are a piece of freedom from being bound by earth or sea. Soon after its completion, this bridge was submerged by the Toktogul dam reservoir.

Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents, Kyrgyzstan.

New bridge across the Naryn at Kazarman/1984/Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents Kyrgyzstan
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Alternative, Beginnings 2019, Khujand

Access Denied

Mohira Suyarkulova, Nazik Abylgazieva, Zulya Esentaeva, , Oksana Kapishnikova, Altyn Kapalova, Aidai Maksatbekova, Lia Sozashvili, Olcha Shchetinina


In Khujand Mohira Suyarkulova noticed that on the city beach as well as the ‘wild’ beach of the Kairakkum reservoir (now proudly called the ‘Tajik Sea’), in teahouses and speakeasies on the river bank, among the backgammon players, fishers and swimmers, women’s presence is rare and unusual. The water’s edge is a place where the existing gendered norms of propriety and sexuality are at risk and need to be enforced.

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Alternative, Beginnings 2019

Baiterek, 2019

Aibek Samakov, Zulya Esentaeva, Narynbek Kazybekov, Dinara Kanybek kyzy


Common reed plays an important role in local people’s livelihoods and economy in the Syr Darya Delta. Summer reed is used for forage and is known as pshen in a local dialect. Winter reed is tied into tight bundles and is used for building houses and erecting fences. Winter reed bundles are called pashyn or shom. Many people tend to think of reed as a material of the past. Reed is not appreciated as much as it used to be.

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Beginnings 2019, Non-Human

Virtual water

Toma Serban Peiu, Alice Hill


The animation is a representation of water leaving the Aral Sea basin by way of “virtual water” – water used in goods that were exported between 1960 and 2016.  For the animation, we focused on cotton because it is a globally exported product.  So each of the ‘lasers’ in the animation is 1 cubic kilometer of water that leaves the basin as a result of the water taken to grow the cotton that was exported. The idea was to track the water “migration” and to see if human migration rates mimic the pattern

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Beginnings 2019, Ferghana, Human


Adham Ashirov

Traditional water managers in Central Asia used to be called “Mirabs.” The profession of “mirab” has disappeared in its traditional understanding from the Central Asian region. The closest parallel today are municipal workers who perform the duties of “mirabs” these days. Traditionally, “mirabs” controlled the flow of water through irrigation canals and ditches, making sure that crops and green areas/pasture were watered on time. Canals running through the village also cooled down the area during hot summers. Mirabs also monitored the timely cleaning of the irrigation canals and sustainable use of water. Skills for this vocation and position were passed down through generations in some families…

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