How Manzherok, from a Soviet success, became the center of Russian culture

For young artists of Altai, Dashi Namdakov is a guiding light

Photo: Anastasia Pleshakova

Edita Piekha once sang a song about the unknown Manzherok. “Tell me, my friend, what is Manzherok? Maybe this is an island? Maybe this is a town?…” In the USSR, at the end of the 60s, it was a success that did not bring clarity. The word seems French, but in fact Manzherok is the name of a village in the Altai Republic, where during Edita Piekha’s youth the Soviet-Mongol friendship festival “Altai-1966” was held.

The festival needed an anthem, written by composer Oscar Feltsman and poet Naum Olev. With their help, Manzherok became a meeting place for advanced Soviet youth. The entire Soviet Union found out about it and people flocked there in search of the fog and the smell of the taiga. It is true that they are words from another song, but essentially they are about the same thing.

Today, Manzherok remains a meeting place and a popular ski resort (no worse than Sochi’s Krasnaya Polyana). The Katun River, the air is clean, the honey is delicious – beauty! Sberbank built there, according to an Italian design, the largest five-star hotel in Russia. They say that it is not inferior to the best hotels in Dubai. Relaxing in it is comfortable and pathetic. The price level is accessible for the “upper” middle class. But it is not the gods who burn the pots… The main thing is to have motivation.

For example, here is an excellent motivation on the path to success – the story of the sculptor Dasha Namdakov. By the way, these days his exhibition opened at the Manzherok hotel. The exhibition is small, thirteen sculptures, but it is a retrospective of his work, from his early works, when he was fascinated by complex forms, to today, where he prefers a simple and laconic language.

Photo: Anastasia Pleshakova

The central sculpture is called “Dragon”. Dashi prepared it for the Venice Biennale. But due to sanctions and difficult logistics, I didn’t go there. He organized an exhibition in Siberia.

Dashi Namdakov comes from a Buryat village in Transbaikalia. He is the sixth child of a large family. His father is a folk craftsman, blacksmith, artist, sculptor, he was engaged in wood carving, weaving carpets … The son continued the family business and received higher education at the Krasnoyarsk Art Institute. He returned to his homeland in Ulan-Ude, where he opened a small jewelry workshop. This was the beginning of his journey: he made elegant earrings, rings and bracelets, stylized as treasures from Scythian burial mounds. I sold them. This money and part of Tatyana’s wife’s salary were used for development: the purchase of bronze, for the foundry and the salaries of assistants. As a result, he made several large-scale sculptures and in 2000 he held his first personal exhibition in Irkutsk, which was a great success and glorified Dashi. As critics wrote about him: “The language of the Buryat teacher, educated in the Russian academic school, is understandable and in great demand in the world. He feels connections with ancient civilizations and a huge layer of modern culture, and at the same time he brilliantly masters the plastic language.”

“After the exhibition in Irkutsk, my life took off like a bullet,” Dashi Namdakova confessed to me.

Today, his works are preserved in the collections of the State Hermitage, the Museum of Oriental and Contemporary Art, and Tibet House in New York. Several years ago, impressed by his work, Queen Elizabeth II of England invited him to dinner. The monumental sculpture of him “Genghis Khan” was installed in London. His works are in the collections of Vladimir Putin, Roman Abramovich, Gerhard Schroeder, actress Uma Thurman…

Photo: Anastasia Pleshakova

Dashi conquered the Western world, worked in Italy and England. At first it was very interesting. Then it became commonplace. She lived in London for several years. “When my children started speaking exclusively English to each other, I realized it was time to leave to preserve my roots,” Dashi admitted. “I told my wife, ‘Tanya, let’s get ready and go home.’ She had no doubt why. When I was young, I was interested in traveling and wanted to succeed in the West. But it is still better to live and work at home.”

Dashi Namdakov is awarded the Russian Government Prize in the field of culture. His landscape sculpture “Transformation” is installed in the center of Krasnoyarsk.

Personal exhibitions were held in the Tretyakov Gallery, the State Hermitage Museum, the National Gallery in Kazan and the Historical Museum on Red Square.

“In my youth I could not even imagine that I, a child from a large family from a small town in Buryatia, would become a famous sculptor, who would work in different countries and dine with the royal family,” Dashi admitted.

For young Altai artists, Dashi Namdakov is a beacon to navigate. By the way, the works of some of them have already decorated the lobby of the Manzherok hotel, which should become not only a center for active sports and recreation, but also a modern multicultural space. So to the question: “Tell me, my friend, what is Manzherok?”, one could answer: a modern center of Russian culture in the broad sense of the word.

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