An unusual photo exhibit, “History of Ukraine: Cuman Steppe Stone,” has opened at the Dmytro Yavornytsky National Historical Museum of Dnipro. It is part of a large-scale project of the photographer Oleksii Samoilenko who tells us, with the help of a photo camera, about the history of our country from the 4th millennium BC until the 15th century AD. On the whole, the project covers the periods of the Trypillia culture, the establishment of Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast, the domination of Scythians in the steppes, the formation of Kyivan Rus’, the flourishing of Cumans (Kipchaks, Polovtsians), and the emergence of Cossacks. The main objective is to visualize one historical epoch or another. Working on the project, the author collected information in many museums of Ukraine.
“Cuman Steppes Stone” is part of the photo project “History of Ukraine,” which presents the photographer’s own view on the history of Cumans. The Kipchaks are one the most mysterious nomadic peoples who lived on the territory of what is now Ukraine. Having no clearly-defined written language, the Cumans left to their descendents some monuments of sacral art – the so-called stone babas (female statues) that stood on steppe kurgans. These motionless stone eyewitnesses of history became the main artifact of the photo artist’s works. Applying the technique of photo collage, the author reproduced the image of Cumans as bold warriors with a steel-like willpower and a strong character hardened in the steppe. Samoilenko’s exhibit displays a total of 21 photo works.
Besides, the exposition is complemented with the historical museum’s deposited items which harmoniously illustrate the author’s story of the Cumans. The opening ceremony saw a pageant with… the living Polovtsian statues. Hairdresser students of the Dnipro Vocational Center for Tourist Service, together with the master Natalia Vyshniakova and teacher Ruslan Tryhub, reproduced the hairstyles of Cuman women. They took a creative approach to recreating the images of women of the nomadic tribes that resided in the steppe in the late Middle Ages. The demonstration was preceded by a meticulous training of students and teachers: consultations with museum employees, studying the daily routine and appearance of Cuman women, making accessories and decorations, etc.
Incidentally, the Dmytro Yavornytsky National Historical Museum of Dnipro has Ukraine’s largest collection of stone sculptures at its disposal, a considerable part of which is represented by Polovtsian statues – the so-called stone babas. They began to be collected as far back as the mid-19th century. A part of the stone babas were put up on an outdoor compound near the Historical Museum.