Working across cultures: Autonomy, Moral Agency and Consent in Kyrgyz Culture

This exhibit features an extract from an ongoing documentary project aiming to provide an insight into Kyrgyz culture and its influence on everyday life in Kyrgyzstan. The film features an interview with an artist we met during visits to the Issy Kul region of Kyrgyzstan in 2011. Our visit took place a few months after a a short but bloody revolution and subsequent ethnic violence in the South of the country that had a seriously disrupting impact on the Kyrgyz national psyche.

In this interview a local artist talks about how he draws his inspiration from the lines and markings he sees in stones found while walking through the mountains. These, he tells us, are a means to communicate with the ancestors. the messages contained in the stones and in his communications with the ancestors and spirits that leave their mark in the physical world messages provide messages that inform Kyrgyz people about how they should live their lives.

The worlds of spirits and supernatural forces co exist with the lives of the living and Kyrgyz sense of moral agency cannot be limited to the the here and now, visible territories of the material world. Kyrgyz culture encompasses traditional veneration of nature, spirits of the dead and ancestral connections.

In western ethical systems the primary focus is on the relationships between individual persons. Morality acts are those which impact upon other moral agents.

From the Kyrgyz perspective moral agency centres on a persons’ relationship with the cosmos. Moral agency is concerned with knowing ones ‘own place’ in the cosmos and acting appropriately. Mortal agency is concerned not just with interpersonal relationships but also with animate and inanimate objects, the living and the dead, the animals, sprites, stones, places and supernatural forces that make up the cosmos are all of importance in determining correct moral actions.

Statues of deer, mountain goats, snow leopards and other culturally significant animals, as well as marker stones imprinted with images of deceased relatives, are evident throughout the rural landscape. The Kyrgyz ae or ata spirit-patrons are often linked to local geographical features such as mountains, rivers or lakes. In Kyrgyz culture the masardyn aesi is a spirit-patron of a sacred place; the bashattyn aesi is spirit-patron of a sacred spring and the arashandyn aesi is a spirit-patron of a curative spring. (Anochin, 1924)

The film is included as part of our presentation looking at cross cultural considerations in participatory video research ethics.

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    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

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  • You try your hardest to give people their space, but at moments you know you’re capturing their image in ways they may or may not be okay with. It’s that rocking back and forth between respect and betrayal that I feel like is at the heart of the film.

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    There are dignified stupidities, and there are heroic stupidities, and there is such a thing as stupid stupidities, and that would be a stupid stupidity not to have a camera on board.

    Werner Herzog


    If it’s far away, it’s news, but if it’s close at home, it’s sociology.

    James Reston


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