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photo exhibit by
Alexander Khantaev

& presentation of
the book by
Virlana Tkacz,
Sayan Zhambalov
& Wanda Phipps

32 Khmelnytsky St
Kyiv, Ukraine

November 29 - December 3, 2002

On November 29 the RA Gallery in Kyiv presented the opening of Shanar: Dedication Ritual of a Buryat Shaman, a photo exhibit by Alexander Khantaev. The thirty beautiful color photos on view were from a rarely performed ritual that took place two years ago in the Buryat Aga Region of Eastern Siberia. The exhibit also celebrates the publication of the book of the same title, which is an intimate account of a shaman ritual during which a shaman first contacts ancestral spirits and receives power. The book was published this month in New York by Parabola Press and includes 175 color photos by Mr. Khantaev that capture the sweeping landscape of the Aga Buryat region, the vivid costumes and sacred objects, including the orgay, or shaman horns, and the dynamic motion of the shamans.

RA gallery was packed to the brim for the occasion. Gallery owner, Andriy Trylisky, addressed the crowd introducing photographer Alexander Khantaev and author Virlana Tkacz, who thanked Yuriy Yekhanurov, member of the Ukraine's Parliament and head of the Committee on Industrial Policy, for his help. Mr. Yekhanurov, who is of Buryat and Ukrainian heritage said he was very pleased to be part of this event that brought together the two cultures he has lived with all his life. Then Bata Tsyrendorjiev from the Society for Buryat Culture related how he had seen Yara's Virtual Souls at a festival in Kyiv in 1997 and how happy he was to help with Yara's current presentation.

Ms. Tkacz then described the ritual that the book documented. After seventy years of religious suppression and persecution by the Soviet government, she said, Buryat shamans are now free to pursue their traditional spiritual practices. The officiating shaman, Bayir Rinchinov, had invited the authors and photographer to attend and record the ritual, allowing the outside world an unprecedented view of this ceremony. Beginning with the preparation of the sacred grounds and the ritual objects, the book follow the progress of the shaman initiate Volodya as he struggles through the rites, encountering unexpected resistance from the sprit world. A complex, interconnected web of ancient grievances must be addressed before Volodya can successfully compete his dedication. With dignity and humor the shamans guide the Shanar's participants to step out of the daily routine of their lives and witness extraordinary forces at work, culminating in a cleansing blessing from the heavens themselves. By working together as one and honoring the spirits and masters of the local area, the Buryats continue their quest to bring new life to the ways of their ancestors.

Then there were readings from the book. Surenkhorlo read poetry and excerpts from the chants in Buryat, while Mykola Shkaraban read Ukrainian versions of the same texts as translated by Oksana Batiuk and Virlana Tkacz, while Daniel Thompson read English translations by the authors of the book. The audience members were taken by the beauty and elegance of the texts.

Alexander Khantaev's photographs have appeared in numerous publications in Buryatia and he has exhibited with the Union of Photographers of Buryatia. He has had two personal exhibits in New York. Portraits of Siberian Shamans was shown at the Open Space Gallery in Saratoga Springs and at La MaMa Galleria in New York City in the spring of 2001. This April Mr. Khantaev showed Meetings in Mongolia at the Open Space Gallery in Saratoga Springs and the Permanent Mission of Mongolia to the UN in New York City.

The authors of the book Shanar, Dedication Ritual of a Buryat Shaman in Siberia, Virlana Tkacz, Sayan Zhambalov and Wanda Phipps have been translating Buryat poetry into English since 1996. Their translations have been performed at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre and the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in New York and were published by Agni Review, Terra Nova, Two Lines and Shaman's Drum. They have received New York State Council on the Arts Translations Grants, as well as the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry Translation Award for their work.


"The Opening of a Photo Exhibit Turned into a Buryat National Holiday. 'We are very happy that here, more than 6,000 kilometer from Buryatia, we have this possibility of growing closer to our own culture,' said Bata Tsyrendorjiev. He heads the Society of Buryat Culture, which unites people of all backgrounds related to Buryatia. Around 90 Buryats live in Kyiv, among them several well-known individuals, like Yuriy Yekhanurov (Parliamentarian and head of the Committee on Industrial Policy) who attended the opening at the RA Gallery….

Artists from New York became interested [in Buryat culture and shamanism]. Virlana Tkacz, the founder of the Yara Arts Group traveled to this far land to learn from the source about Buryat culture. And she wrote a book about this. This is someone we should learn from. Ukrainians don't understand how one can write such a thick book about events, which lasted only four days. But obviously one can. The exhibited photographs document this experience. They were taken by photographer Alexander Khantaev, a young intelligent man who was present at the opening…" The chants were read in Buryat, Ukrainian and English. But not the entire texts, some sections should not be read in Buryat. It is a serious matter - spirits should not be called down. 'We saw how nature answered the shamans. How the weather changed, how a rainbow appeared in the sky,' says Virlana Tkacz."
Vlast i politika, (Kyiv) December 6-12, 2002.

  • See also Daniel Macisaac's article in Kyiv Post "Buryat Ritual Captured on Film, in Words"
  • Book is available at your local bookstore or from
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