People from more than 185 ethnic groups live in russia.** Despite this fact, the country is still largely perceived as “white”, especially in the West. Even though ethnic minorities were and are oppressed and have been the targets of ethnic cleansing and even genocide, colonialism is often perceived as a Western import, not just by the regime, but also by large parts of the russian opposition. Rather than dealing with the country’s colonial history, a narrative of russia as an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist power is being upheld and has even gained momentum since russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The exhibition Өмә ([ome]; Bashqort for “collective self-help practices”) demonstrates that the current war and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 are just the latest events in a historical continuity of russian imperialism. Since it’s ethically and politically inappropriate to include participants both from russia and Ukraine into one exhibition, there will be public events devoted to Ukrainian anticolonial resistance, while the exhibition makes room for anticolonial resistance within russia..
To this end, the exhibition shows approximately thirty artistic positions from members of indigenous communities and persons with migrant identities and experience of living in russia. They reveal russia as a colonial power that could only constitute itself within its current borders by deportation, forced assimilation, Christianization, russification and extractivism. At the same time, the works seek ways of anti-colonial resistance.
Since the image of a “white” russia is being upheld not only by the regime but by the predominantly white opposition as well, the decolonial movements that emerged after the dissolution of the USSR never gained traction. By telling theirstories and developing methods of autoethnography and working with memory through archives, Өмә therefore seeks to represent the complexity of russia as a colonial realm. In doing so, the exhibition situates itself within the historical and political context of an ongoing russian colonial expansion and violence in different territories.