A corollary to 2015’s “Tracing Morocco” by German street artist Hendrik Beirkirch (aka ECB), a new book travels to meet the rugged inhabitants of Siberia’s countryside in the Russian Federation. The results are starkly genuine, impressively authentic.
Again indulging us in the deep crevasses of many a weathered façade, Siberia invites you to meet the people whom he has met in his travel and presumably befriended, given their ease as subjects. A part of the Jardin Rouge stable over the past few years, Beirkirch has followed the lead of founder Jean Louis Haguenauer, the Frenchman who moved to Russia in the early 1980s and found his own odyssey outside the city to be formative to his character, leading him to write the introduction to the handsome tome.
“The work produced is a testimony, a memoir,” says Haguenauer, “These modern faces that hark back to the past, these women and men immortalized on canvas, ambassadors of their trades and their regions on walls around the world, convey another image of the largest region on the planet and of a sadly little-known country, of which we wish to provide a new vision. It is the everyday women and men, passionately living their trades, who are the heroes of this new project.”
Indeed there are few signs of artifice or romanticism in the sure-footed subjects here, and you are offered a glimpse of their context with some of these new portraits. Seeing them translated to grand scale as murals spanning towers is remarkable, and one can only imagine what impact they have on the people who live in or pass through these neighborhoods. Scattered through a number of cities, there is a familiar feeling in each of these strangers, perhaps feeling like family to some.
“Untainted by any attempt at idealization, the faces of those portrayed tell the story of real life,” says Arne Zyprian in an opening essay. “Paradoxically, these anonymous guises pictured on a vast scale on the sides of buildings offer a break from the overall anonymity of the cities and give them a face.”
Interspersed with canvasses and murals are observations that attempt to examine why we find the singular visages so compelling. There is a temptation to look at a new people in cultures different from our own as the exotic “other”, to simplify their existence by what we can observe on the outside, or to project our own inner dynamics on to the faces that we see.
One thing is for certain, Beirkirch has found through technique and experience a way for each of these people to become somehow relatable.
“Hendrik pours all of his love for humanity into his portraits,” says Jean Louis. “There is never any aggression or bitterness in these people.” Perhaps that is how most of us would like to be seen as well.