Aliya Sakhariyeva (1)

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Aliya Sakhariyeva

The Silent Presence

Saint Petersburg, Russia (nationality: Kazakhstan)
Art historian, head of the Art&Science center at ITMO University

© Image by Turar Kazangapov

Dear friend,

They call me Koeleria macrantha but I call myself P.456, where 456 is the number of nuclear tests conducted at my homeland, Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site (the Polygon), Kazakhstan from 1949 to 1989. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve felt every single explosion, the total power of which only in its first 15 years was 2500 times higher than the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Sometimes I fear I’ll forget them, so every night I share my memories with the wind. This is my highest duty I believe. Thus, I am happy to welcome you here and show you our beautiful steppe.

Sometimes I hear the joyful noise of children shouting “ispytanie” (Eng. “test”) on the day of the test. This was perhaps the only word they knew in Russian. I reminisce them secretly watching the blinding flashes of light as beautiful mushroom cloud expanded into the sky. They say the Polygon is in the past now, but the truth is it’s still here, I can feel its silent presence. When you arrive you’ll see what I have seen, the silent witnesses – the steppe, the wind, all plants and animals keep their memories alive to share them with you.