25-29 October 2021

Welcome to Yakutia

By 2016 many people across the world were surprised and disappointed that Leonardo DiCaprio had not yet been awarded an Oscar. In Sakha (Yakutia), the north Siberian homeland of the indigenous Siberian Sakha community, an effort was made to redress this injustice. Following the inspiration of Tat’iana Egorova and Gela Krasil’nikova, Sakha (Yakutia)’s women brought their silver jewellery to be melted down into an alternative Oscar for DiCaprio – the statuette, “Ellei, talking with the Stars”. It was presented to DiCaprio with the explanatory booklet you see here, and this video, “Welcome to Yakutia”.

This project was more than a playful challenge to the Hollywood establishment. It was an invitation to collaborate in addressing an increasingly urgent problem: the ecological destruction caused by technological development. Further, this was explicitly an invitation from indigenous Siberians – people whose lives incorporate all the technological accoutrements of the modern world, but who have retained an ancient and intimate relationship with nature. DiCaprio in fact was chosen because of his advocacy of conservation work. As Egorova, Krasil’nikova and their team introduced themselves and their heritage, they also presented the world at large with the necessity of aligning technological development with indigenous knowledge.

Ellei is known as the forefather of the Sakha people. It was he who instituted the Ysyakh festival, a yearly celebration of the generosity and beauty of an emotionally responsive natural world. In the statuette he clasps a wooden Sakha drinking vessel called a choroon, which holds the fermented mare’s milk offered at the Ysyakh. The patterned choroon represents the entire three-tiered universe; when filled with its offering it signifies a universe in harmony. Ellei holding a choroon and speaking with the stars demonstrates a respectful, loving relationship with all that lives on the earth. The presentation of this statuette to DiCaprio with love and good wishes was a practical instantiation of this relationship, expanding it into the galaxies of Instagram celebrity.

Concept: Gela Krasil’nikova and Tat’iana Egorova
Editor: Marina Kalinina
Camera: Serafim Fëdorov
Voiceover and translation: Künnei Filippova
The video contains footage shot by Sardana Barabanova, Serafim Fedorov, Marina Kalinina, Aleksei Pavlov and others.