Svetlana Romanova


Svetlana Romanova (Sakha/Even) is an artist, filmmaker, and activist born in Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic, Russia, located south of the Arctic Circle. Her practice centers on the critical importance of Indigenous visual language and sovereignty to the sustainability of Indigenous identity, particularly in the Arctic regions, and how art can be used as a tool for Indigenous advocacy internationally. She received a BFA from Otis College of Art and Design (2012) and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts (2014). Her films, including Gospel According to Ophelia (2014), Kyusyur/Stado (2021), and Arctic Utopias (2022), have been exhibited at venues around the world, including the National Art Museum of the Republic of Sakha, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Flaherty NYC, e-flux Screening Room, Tampere Film Festival, Norwegian Documentary Film Festival, New Horizons International Film Festival, Goethe Institute (Montréal), Artist’s House (Yakutsk), and California Institute of the Arts, among others. She is the recipient of grants, fellowships, residencies, and awards, including “The Right To Be Cold* – Circumpolar Perspectives” Residency in Nunavik and Sápmi, supported by the Goethe Institut (Montréal); a Jan van Eyck Academie Residency (2022–2023); and a Sustainability Award from Tampere Film Festival (2022), together with Ville Koskinen, Daniela Toma, and Matti Kinnunen. She is a member of Arctic Utopias, a collective of creative people concerned about the negative environmental and political evolutions impacting the Arctic, and is a COUSIN collective Cycle II artist (2022–2023), supporting her forthcoming project Voyage of Jeanette, a visual essay structured around the Bulunsky district, its residents, and their traditional practices. She lives and works in Yakutsk. 

ONLINE SCREENING DATES: January 9 – January 30, 2023

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: Managa Bar/Rustam’s Habitat, 67 min, 2017; Lena River, 20 min, 2015 (co-directed with Chelsea Tuggle)
This series is co-selected and presented with COUSIN collective and is generously funded by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Managa Bar/Rustam’s Habitat, 67 min, 2017

Svetlana Romanova’s Managa Bar/Rustam’s Habitat brilliantly portrays contemporary youth culture in Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic and the coldest city in the world. Divided in half like the two sides of a record, the film immerses viewers in the daily happenings of the filmmaker’s life, depicting her social circle of Yakutian artists, punks, and community inhabitants. Stories of drunken parties, outdoor buzzcuts, and plein-air readings, featuring the words of Navajo poet Sherwin Bitsui, are contrasted with more peaceful vignettes highlighting the natural landscape and built environments surrounding one of Russia’s most rapidly growing regional cities south of the Arctic Circle. For all of the potential difference between the viewer’s personal context and the particular setting of this film, Romanova manages to imbue a strong feeling of familiarity and universality to its scenes and subjects.

Lena River, 20 min, 2015

Svetlana Romanova and Chelsea Tuggle traverse grassy meadows, birch forests, and snowy taiga through rural stretches of the Central Yakutian Lowlands, a transition zone between Central and Eastern Siberia. While following the tidal direction of the Lena River, which flows north to the Arctic Ocean, elements begin to emerge: familial memories, encounters with animals, the richness of the region’s natural resources, and the realities of their violent extraction. Comparisons are made between the Lena River's importance to the Sakha Republic and the San Juan River’s relation to the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region of the United States. Both filmmakers realize their journey occurs on the precipice of major social and environmental changes that threaten the Sakha's way of life. Romanova remarks: “Will this development be a catalyst for the deconstruction of our native identity?”

This film is co-directed with Chelsea Tuggle.

Siberia occupies roughly seventy-seven percent of Russian territory and consists of different federal subjects: republics, krais, oblasts, and autonomous okrugs. The Republic of Sakha Yakutia is situated within the Siberian region and has eight recognized ethnic groups, five of which are classified minor Indigenous according to an official calculus devised by the Russian government. This official Indigenous classification is troubling because it is based primarily on population figures and perceived risk of extinction. This system of definition, mixed with the current state of socioeconomics, produces confusing separations among native people in the region. For example, the dominant tribe within the Republic of Sakha, the Yakut have unmatched cultural, political, and economic power, but lack an Indigenous classification due to their relatively large population of 350,000 people. Despite its denied status of Indigenous, Sakha has managed to gain access to control the creation and distribution of images representing diversity in the Republic’s Arctic communities. –  Svetlana Romanova

Read the full article by Svetlana Romanova.

Watch an interview with Svetlana Romanova at Goethe-Institut Montréal.    

All stills, photographs, and artwork courtesy © Svetlana Romanova. Screening co-presented with Prismatic Ground