Category Archives: Human

Human, Khujand

River and sociality

The river encourages multiple and unique forms of both public and covert sociality.  Historical sources point out that the river bank has long been the favoured location for conducting business and pastime among Hujandis. Local men would frequent alou-khanas – the guesthouses and places for social gatherings as well as tea houses, which also served as hotels and diners for the locals where they spent many hours on the wooden platforms along the river bank.  Bath houses were also usually designated as male-only spaces, while women’s visitation of baths was significantly restricted compared to the counties of the Middle East, for instance.  

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Human, Naryn

Naryn is water-rich, Naryn is water-poor?

‘Water is the Source of Life’

It is not only all over Central Asia that one can hear people exclaiming ‘Water is the Source of Life’. Along the Naryn river in Kyrgyzstan, one can often see such slogans decorating the protective walls around drinking-water infrastructure or irrigation – as here. You can find some people being very careful not to spit or spill soap into water-courses, while other people find the embankment of the local canal a really good place to wash their car or spring-clean their carpets. With more cars and carpets washed by the river, will Naryn be richer or poorer?

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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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Human, Naryn

An Imagined Bridge Biography

1840: It is spring. The steeply wooded valleys along the Naryn ring with the sound of axes as men in boots and chapans fell 40 m high Tian Shan firs. They drag them to bank of the river and strip them of their bark. The huge trunks dry as the sun wheels into autumn and winter. When the ice has grown strong on the Naryn, the men return to harness the huge logs up to horses, and drag them 20 km downriver to where the At Bashy valley leads up to the Torugart pass. Here, where the Naryn is at it’s very narrowest, they raise the logs across the escarpment, one by one, creating a new path across the water. 

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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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Human, Kazaly

Construction of the Kazaly hydroelectric complex

This historic footage produced by the Soviet Qazaqstan TV journal shows how Qazaly dam had been built and entered service. This dam is located in the Basqara village of the Qazaly district (Qyzylorda province of Qazaqstan). Qazaly dam entered service in 1970. It is one of the major pieces of hydrological infrastructure in the Syr Darya Delta. Source: Qazaqstan’s Central State Archive of Photo, Video and Audio Documents.

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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Human, Shamaldy-Sai

In the flow, 2019

Gulzat Baialieva, Dinara Kanybek kyzy, Oksana Kapishnikova, Aidar Zhumabaev, Deniz Nazarova

Installation, collage

“In the flow” is a cyclic structure, illustrating the various flows circulating between Shamaldy-Sai and Moscow. These two distant places were once linked by ambitious projects of modernization.

The settlement of Shamaldy-Sai was established in 1956 as part of the construction of the Uch-Kurgan Hydroelectric Power Station – the “firstborn” on the Naryn River. Since 1914 this area has attracted hydrologists and engineers. From 1956 Moscow in particular regulated the first flow of labourers who were directed to build the town, plants and Uch-Kurgan hydroelectric station.

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