Secrets of an ancient city

Secrets of an ancient city

The Ziyavudin Magomedov PERI Charitable Foundation and the Peter the Great Museum in Derbent created its Autumn School for Researchers for the young people of Derbent.  For five days fifty students and schoolchildren studied this most ancient city in Russia as they ‘sampled’ its tastes, smells and colours.

Helping them along the way were brilliant and charismatic professionals from Derbent, Makhachkala, Moscow and even San Francisco:  Svetlana Anokhina (journalist), Patimat Guseynova (contemporary artist), Oleg Zilberg and Alexandra Spiridonova (design), Magomed Kaziev (cinema), Akhmed Kadiev (photography), Elmira Dalgat (history), Maria Fadeeva (architecture), and Maria Bebik (psychology).

They divided the young people into five groups according to their separate interests and tried not to belabour them with long lectures.  Instead they walked with them through the city, its streets, market, and railroad station, trying to see it properly, to interpret it and take a fresh approach to it.  The journalists interviewed people in the street; the artists gathered discarded things from various corners of the city and later in the studios assembled them into art pieces; the photographers and cinematographers recorded landscapes and portraits, colours and forms; the designers hunted for symbols that would lead them to the essence of Derbent.   The organizers emphasized that the goal was not to praise Derbent but to understand it, to take in what it has to be proud of and find where it falls short.

Akhmed Kadiev is a photographer.   Along with theoretical fundamentals he taught the students to pay attention to details and record them properly with the camera, to see in the everyday life of the city things sometimes hidden, and to emphasize the colour and vitality of Derbent and its ceaseless motion.

‘There were fifteen in my group, and they had an obviously sincere, intense interest in photography.  As we went through the streets they took in everything around them, and their gaze became more focussed,’ said the photographer.

Svetlana Anokhina suggested that the researchers make virtual monuments.  The students hit on the idea of a whimsical and grotesque monument to a salesman because Derbent has a multitude of shops.  They would erect a statue of a boy that they felt would be a symbol of the boyish longing for adventure.  There was also a plan to bring back the ferris wheel, only many times larger and operating at night, as a monument to childhood and to everything overwhelmingly impressive.  Texts about the monuments that the students thought up together with a map showing where they would be placed are on view in an exhibit at the museum.

One of the participants in the School had this to say:  ‘We felt that we were journalists as we ran through the bazaar asking people questions.  These people would be going about their own business, and we would come up to them and ask, “What does happiness mean to you?”  Here is one answer:  “O good heavens, good heavens, go interview somebody young, ask them your questions.  I am already old.  My life is over, 52 years old.  I’m in no mood for this now—I’m just selling bananas in the rain.”’

The five days went by in a blur, and the young people said goodbye to their instructors with tears in their eyes.  This Autumn School for Researchers is just the beginning, the organizers assured us.  ‘While they were studying Derbent, we were studying them in order to find out what educational projects would benefit them.  In the future we intend to arrange something longer and on a larger scale.  That might be an educational summer camp, projects in which the city’s residents participate, or public art (art in the city environment).  In short, there will be programmes involving Derbent’s young people and guest specialists.  We cannot take the place of schools and universities, but we can educate by showing new possibilities for self-realization and for choosing the right career,’ says PERI Foundation curator Andrei Rymar.  A display of the participants’ work under the suggestive title Keys to Derbent will be on view at the museum complex throughout the month.