Coloured engraving of Evenki shaman, Russia. (Copyright: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford)

Until 3 September 2023, Pitt Rivers Museum invites you, through this display and the virtual reality (VR) headset, to wander in another world, an Evenki world. Listen to stories shaped by Evenki cosmology and shamanic tradition and find out how these relate to objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum. The Evenki are a diverse cultural group living across Northern and Central Asia. They are primarily reindeer-herding and hunting people, although in the steppes, Evenki took up horse herding, while in the Arctic, fishing became an important occupation. Adapting to change and living in harmony with nature has always been central to Evenki way of life.

Gihu (drum beater), Evenki, Siberia. (Copyright: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford)

The Evenki proverb ‘Baeye dunne toktan’ (‘Man is but a speck of dirt’) teaches us that humans are only a small piece of the puzzle of the natural world, charged with keeping balance with other beings. Animals, plants, the sun, the moon, the stars, rivers, forests and mountains all have spirits, which humans must respect and honour in order to live in reciprocity and to prosper. The forest fires raging through the Siberian taiga each year, a result of global climate change, are an indication of global imbalance. We have not kept up our responsibilities to the natural world, and suffer the consequences of environmental disturbances, making life in the taiga increasingly difficult for Evenki today.

Map representing Evenki world view and cosmology. Ink on reindeer hide. Drawn by artist Anya Gleizer. (Copyright: Anya Gleizer)

In 2019, artist Anya Gleizer, researcher Pablo Fernandez Velasco and anthropologist Jaanika Vider journeyed to Evenkia in the Siberian Arctic, retracing the route of an expedition led by anthropologist Maria Czaplicka in 1914–15. Using a VR headset and digital versions of the Museum’s collections, the team hoped to learn more about the objects Czaplicka had brought to Oxford a century before. Swiping through photographs on an iPad and visiting Oxford via the VR headset, locals in Chirinda and Tura shared their stories with them. Anya worked with elders and children in Evenki communities, sharing 360-degree video technology as a means for them to record these stories. This collaborative exhibition, curated by Alexander Varlamov, Galina Veretnova and Anya Gleizer, emerged from those friendships made in 2019.

Galina Veretnova in traditional costume with her drum. (Copyright: Mila Kudryasheva)

If you want to learn more, read our interview with Anya Gleizer about the development of the project throughout the pandemic here:

Anya Gleizer – on indigenous communities, tradition and reconcilliation

Visit the exhibition until 3 September 2023 in Oxford, more details via the link below.