Katrina Trofimova (Even, Russian Federation), interviewed by Galya Morrell
For me, art is a mere instrument of survival. I was born in an Arctic village, where fathers and brothers were vanishing faster than ice. I was running away from violence, hiding in nature, and dreaming of a beautiful world where I could live one day.
I was running away from violence, hiding in nature, and dreaming of a beautiful world where I could live one day.
On the left side of the Indigirka River, just below its confluence with the Allaikha, lies Chokurdakh, a little place, famous for the remains of prehistoric mammoths found in the area. Here, 18 years ago, Katrina was born.
There is no year-round road in and out of Chokurdakh. It’s only in the winter, when temperatures plummet to –50 ˚C, that the Indigirka River becomes a frozen highway.
Katrina was born in Chokurdakh but didn’t grow up there. Her family lived in an even more remote and less accessible place: Olenegorsk village, whose name literally means “a reindeer place.” There was no running water there, or indoor toilet, not much to be found in the store and, again, no real road. Yet, Katrina says over and over again that this was the best place to grow up as a child and become an artist.
We spent days outside, in nature. Dressed in reindeer furs from head to toe, like little penguins, we were invulnerable to the frost. When we got hungry, we simply fished and fried the catch on the snowy shore. Nature was my home.
My father, like everyone else in the village, was drinking, and when he got drunk he would get violent and we had to flee. Was I scared? Not really. We saw it as a hide-and-seek game, rather than “abuse.” It was normal. Everyone lived just like that.
I loved my father and he loved me.
My father died from alcohol when I was 11. He left my mother with four children, and our life changed forever after his departure. Was I angry at him? No, I wasn’t. Unlike city kids, we knew that life can be unfair and all you need to do is to stay human regardless of your surroundings.
And then my brother committed suicide. He was just 18. It was horrible, but again, it was normal. Boys often take their lives on the edge of the planet, all around the Arctic.
Some may say that my childhood was tragic, but as an artist and a human being, I see it as the best place, somewhere I would want to return to and live in again. I had love.
Since I was born in August, my mother gave me two names: Augustina-Katrina. She had read in the newspaper that it was getting trendy. Yet, in my village, I was the only one with two names.
I was born under the sign of the Lion, and I feel that Lion is my protector and guardian, both in life and in art. One thing I am learning from Lion is wisdom.
Some may say that my childhood was tragic, but as an artist and a human being, I see it as the best place, somewhere I would want to return to and live it again. I had love.
There are no lions in the Arctic, except for the one that lives in Katrina’s heart. There are polar bears, Arctic wolves, and reindeer. Katrina talks to them and they talk back to her.
The Arctic world, and the world in general, is in equilibrium. It was conceived as such, and when humans try to alter it for greed or angst or jealousy, things get broken.
In many of my paintings, you will see a polar bear on top of the world and carrying a reindeer on its head. The polar bear ensures the balance, but the reindeer does too. And then you will see little Arctic clowns balancing on top of the reindeer. They are humans who live in unison with nature.
Our world is a boat that is sinking. As an artist, I see it as my mission to reveal some earthly things that are mostly unseen and look at them from the perspective of the Cosmos.
As an artist, I see it as my mission to reveal some earthly things, that are mostly unseen, and look at them from the perspective of the Cosmos.
At the age of 14, Katrina entered the Arctica School, a boarding school for gifted Indigenous children in Neryungri, Yakutia, located in the very heart of Siberia. Arctica has been a partner of two of the expeditions of Avannaa, Arctic Without Borders, and Arctic Arts, and through this partnership Katrina’s paintings ended up being showcased at the mobile exhibition of Indigenous artists at the North Pole in 2018. Finally, her bear was really standing on top of the planet with the reindeer on its head, carrying the little Arctic clowns high in the sky. On a drifting floe of ice, Katrina’s works became stage decorations for the first children’s play devoted to climate change and ocean pollution at the North Pole.
For more, see the website of Galya Morrell, Adventure Artist
Arctic Without Borders was filmed in Yakutia, Siberia, and has been shown at the North Pole in the Arctic Without Borders exhibition in April, 2018. Video: Galya Morrell, 2018
This story is one of four offered by Arctic Indigenous youths in the form of interviews with Arctic explorer, artist, and photographer Galya Morrell of Avannaa, an organization whose mission is to carry out “an eyewitness cultural expedition to the world’s most isolated communities affected by climate and societal change.” We are deeply grateful to Galya for making it possible for these amazing youth to share their voices with the world. And we’re all the more grateful in that Galya did so under what turned out to be unexpected difficult circumstances — a clear testimony to her passionate commitment to the younger generations of Arctic Indigenous Peoples.
Katrina Trofimova is an 18-year-old Even artist from Yakutia, Siberia. At the age of 14, she entered a boarding school for gifted Indigenous children in Neryungri, Yakutia. In 2018, her paintings were showcased at a mobile exhibition of Indigenous artists on the North Pole.
The Indigenous Youth Storytellers Circle: Share Your Story with the World!
An Invitation to Young Indigenous People
The Indigenous Youth Storytellers Circle is a year-long project (2019) linked to Terralingua’s flagship publication, Langscape Magazine. We aim to collect and publish personal stories from young Indigenous people who are involved with one or more of the following four Focus Areas:
- reaffirming cultural identity;
- breathing new life into their ancestral languages;
- reconnecting with traditional knowledge and practices, values, and ways of life; and
- reclaiming ancestral links with the land.
The Indigenous Youth Storytellers Circle is recognized as an official project of the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, so your story has the potential to reach a global audience. Read more stories from Indigenous Youth.
If you are a young Indigenous person who would like to tell about your experiences connecting to your ancestral languages, cultures, and lands, we want to hear from you!