Nomad Kyrgyz People

Turkish academic Yavuz Ozer reveals a fascinating insight into the lives of Central Asia's nomads

Away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, the Alley Arts Centre in Strabane will warm your heart this holiday period with a photographic exhibition documenting the life of nomadic Kyrgyz people living in the Tien Shan Mountains in Central Asia.

The work, produced by Turkish academic Yavuz Ozer, is fascinating and thought-provoking, offering a unique insight into the little-known lifestyle, culture and traditions of those living on or near the 6,000 metre high summits.

Ozer’s photographic journey – which follows the nomad route of Bishkek, Susamur, Jalal-Abad, Osh, Balikchi, Issik Lake and Toktogul – highlights a simple but clever way of living in extreme environments developed by the Kyrgyz nomads over centuries.

Ozer’s work is displayed on wall panels that are dotted around the upstairs gallery of the Alley, each accompanied by text, which helpfully put the photographs in context. We follow the subjects as they advance through the year.

During winter the nomads lead a life similar to any other Kyrgyzs. In the summer months, however, they leave their houses to live in yurts on remote pastures in the Tien Shan Mountains, revelling in their ancient traditions.

Family and youth are main themes that run throughout the exhibition. A portrait photo of a Kyrgyz nomad family with a mother, father and child, is particularly enchanting. It illustrates that while nomad families are traditionally extended, they have begun to diminish as older people stay in villages, undertaking agricultural work, while their children travel to different countries or cities, such as Bishkek and Almaty for education or to find work.

Walking through the exhibition, there is a definite feeling of innocence in many of the photos. One eye-catching piece shows a young jolly girl, Parizat, as she poses in her favourite handwoven red sweater, made of fleece.

Ozer explains that this pose is considered a 'Nomad Kyrgyz fashion style' and that handwoven sweaters show traces of distinctive Asia techniques and symbols.

Through vivid and captivating photography, Ozer reveals that the nomads often find it difficult to assimilate in a rapidly westernising society, reluctantly having to adapt to changing times. A big part of Kyrgyzstan's culture relies on the older generation to pass their knowledge on to their children; they face a constant battle to keep a balance between modernisation and ancient culture.

A carefree portrait of a young Kyrgyz girl shows her looking cheerful and content whilst standing in a meadow; a blue sky and green grass growing all around. This illustrates how nomads live cut off from global communication networks, and still use sunrise and sunset as markers to schedule their day.

In summer months, children do not have access to the internet or television, but lead simple lives, helping their families with work throughout the day and playing games with friends in the evenings.

Other pieces to keep an eye out for are the many images of horses, which nomads rely on heavily to carry out their everyday duties, and a photo of an exhausted looking ‘Moskevic’ car, the nomads' second favourite form of transportation.

This exhibition is a welcome distraction during the busy Christmas frenzy. Ozer’s work offers an interesting insight into a humble and content lifestyle close to nature, many miles away from materialistic and modern society as we know it.

Nomad Kyrgyz People on Tien Shan Mountains runs at the Alley Theatre, Strabane until January 2.