This opening image is a painting by the Russian artist Nicholai Roerich (Николай Константинович Рерих), “Remember/ Помни,” painted in 1924 during Roerich’s travels in the eastern Himalayas. Roerich, born to a Baltic German father and Russian mother, grew up in the last days of the Russian Empire in St. Petersburg. From a young age, he had an interest in archaeology, participating in the famed Maikop Kurgan excavations run by Nikolai Veselovski in the late nineteenth century.
He went on to be an influential painter and set designer, with his early interest in archaeology remaining visible in his artistic work. These influences are clear, for example, in his design for the scenery for the notorious premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913, which drew heavily on iconography of Scythian history and archaeology. Roerich left Russia after the October Revolution in 1917, and eventually settled in America. He continued to travel and paint throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, spending most of his time in Asia and the Himalayas, where his interest in occult mysticism grew. He was a leading advocate for the protection of cultural heritage in these years, and his painting continued to reflect a fascination with civilization’s many pasts.
As we searched for a single image to encapsulate the huge swath of space covered in this project, we first drifted towards the Orientalist painters, whose visions of the Near East and Eurasia so undergird our own scholarship. But these come with a very particular type of baggage. Roerich’s image, although not free of its own intellectual freight, presents a different vision of the Eurasian space. We see a rider, moving on horseback through a vast landscape. We see women, moving at a smaller scale, and the anchoring stability of a local community. This is the story of intersecting networks of people and space, and of the movement of goods and ideas: all themes central to our work, as we seek to paint our own version of the past of the Afro-Eurasian world zone.
For more information on Roerich and his art, see:
- Biography published by the Nicholas Roerich Museum (http://www.roerich.org/roerich-biography.php)
- Besonen, Julie. "Visions of a Forgotten Utopia." New York Times (New York, NY), April 6, 2014. (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/nyregion/visions-of-a-forgotten-utopian.html?_r=0)
- Lazarevich, O.V., V.I. Molodin, and P.P. Labetskii. Н. К. Рерих — археолог [N.K. Roerich – Archaeologist]. Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian National Academy of Sciences Press, 2002. [in Russian].
This painting is used with the permission of the Nicholas Roerich Museum www.roerich.org.