- Nation: Sakha
By Tamara Kula
Whether carving a piece of mammoth ivory small enough to fit in his palm or chiseling great blocks of ice so high he needs a scaffolding to reach the top, Sakha artist Fyodor Markov truly has experienced art on every level.
The multiple prizes and honors he has earned don't go to his head. Instead, he considers them a part of a continuum connecting previous generations to the future. “Our task is to pass on to the new generation all of our experience, knowledge and abilities, so that our traditions, rich culture, and Sakha national art will not disappear,” he said.
Markov was born in 1948 in the village of Tabaga, in the Megino-Kangalasskiy region of Sakha. Though not artists by profession, his parents skillfully created everything they needed by hand. His father, Ivan Gavrileich Markov, crafted any tool required, from construction and cutting instruments to rakes. Stubborn yet dedicated, he has always been a model of hard work and self-sufficiency for Markov.
Likewise, his mother embraced her work. In addition to caring for her husband and six children by keeping them all fed, clothed, and loved, Alexandra Fyodorovna made traditional bowls from birch bark and decorated them with horse hair. The simple, graceful bowls, with their scent of summer, were used for gathering strawberries and holding dairy products. “All these items made by my mother's able hands taught us to understand and appreciate beauty,” Markov said. The wisdom and capabilities of his parents provided Markov with a solid foundation for his artistic work. “I can't express the depth of my gratitude to my parents,” he said. “I consider my life a duty to continue to work and create.”
Markov attended school in Tabaga, where he first received a set of paints as a gift from one of his teachers. His childhood hobby of drawing turned into much more; he graduated from Yakutsk's art college in 1975 with his diploma as a master carver, after having worked with outstanding carvers including S. N. Pesterev and N. D. Amydaev, among others. He began his career in the souvenir shop Sardaana, also working as a jeweler and wood carver.
Materials and Themes
At first, Markov worked with every type of material he could get his hands on: gold, silver, metal, bone, walrus tusks, rock and clay. “I value every material,” he said. This open-minded approach gave him the experience he needed to reach the level he is at today.
The natural materials he uses play a determining role in what the finished pieces will be, he said. “With the help of the outward appearance, I try to uncover what is hidden inside, to express its inner philosophy.” His first sculptures, guided by this connection with nature, were of animals. Later, he found himself engaging the theme of family. His work began to imitate his own family: a couple with three daughters. The most honored material is mammoth ivory, which he describes as an amazing gift to the Sakha people. Though the giant creatures themselves disappeared from the Earth over 20,000 years ago, their tusks have been miraculously preserved to this day in the frozen tundra. This quality of immortality is enticing. “If you carve on it the history of the Sakha people, the memory of our people will remain for centuries.”
The World of Ice
In direct contrast to long-lasting ivory stands another material Markov finds himself drawn to: ice. But its ephemeral quality makes it perhaps all the more entrancing. In the last 20 years, Markov has developed a serious passion for ice art, participating in – and winning – numerous international ice fests. “It introduces a completely foreign, unique and fascinating world,” he said. On top of the thrill of creating a frozen world, he cherishes the friendships he has made through his festival travels.
Ice affords certain luxuries not possible with other media. With such an omnipresent medium, ice sculptors can create large-scale structures and graceful animals that tower over onlookers - compositions that simply would not be possible from ivory. He likens working with ice to working with crystal, engraving fine patterns on delicate surfaces. The fleeting nature of ice art – as with sand and snow sculptures – causes some to view it as somehow less than “real” art, but this is not the case. Infused with the artist's soul, an ice sculpture can create sincere joy in the viewer. “It leads him to something completely foreign, fairy-tale-like, a sparkling crystal world,” Markov said.
Sakha stories, proverbs and legends carry forth their tales in Markov's creations. “Their characters become the heroes of my work,” he said. A master of bas-relief on mammoth tusk and miniature figurines, he combines the modern world with the legends of the ages. In particular, he has started focusing the national Yakut epic Olonkho.
Traditional culture is joyously celebrated each year at the largest Sakha holiday – Yhyakh. Best expressed in English as “abundance,” Yhyakh is the ancient festival honoring the arrival of summer, though it has experienced a major revival only in the last two decades. Markov looks forward to the festivities every summer, as he is key in carving wooden structures for the occasion. He creates beautifully engraved totem hitching-posts, ceremonial beams of the traditional yurt dwellings, and the sacred tree of life, Aal Luuk Mas.
Markov is pleased to see the positive influence the holiday has on his people. Yhyakh brings with it “an understanding of customs, ritual blessings, and a primordial foundation of Sakha culture.” As one link in the chain from the past to the future, Markov is proud to pass on the essence of what it means to be Sakha.