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Minarets and Onion Domes: The Tatars and Russians of Kazan

Alison Shuman | The Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation

Under the towering Qul Sharif Mosque, Tatars and Russians stroll by Kazan's Kremlin.

Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. The city’s population is divided almost equally between the Muslim Tatars and the Orthodox Christian Russians. Like many cities across Russia, Kazan has been experiencing a religious resurgence since the collapse of the Soviet Union. What makes Kazan so extraordinary is that this revival has unfolded not only with a marked lack of tension, but often with a spirit of mutual respect.

Upon first arriving in Kazan, I went searching for concrete moments when people of different faiths literally came together to create this tolerant city. I realized, though, that there was no magic moment, and that the truth of the situation was much more subtle and profound. This idea of tolerance is woven into the fabric of everyday life in the city; it is a part of the national identity. One needs to look no further than Russia’s own boundaries to understand the significance of this, but the majority of people in Kazan don’t give too much thought to their unique situation- it’s just the way it’s always been.

Since receiving a Master’s degree in Photojournalism, Alison has been working as a freelance photographer in the US and Russia. Her most recent project, Minarets and Onion Domes, is a portrait of Kazan, Russia, a city heralded for religious tolerance among its half-Muslim Tatar, half-Orthodox Christian Russian population. Earlier projects include a multifaceted look at the experiences of Muslim-American women; documenting the lives of HIV-positive teens and the complexities of stigma, disease and childhood; and directing and editing a documentary short film about the Miss Austin pageant that explored identity in the context of our beauty-focused society. Alison speaks Russian and her photographic travels have taken her to 14 countries and counting.

In May 2013, Alison was invited to produce a solo exhibition at the Tatarstan State Gallery of Modern Art in Kazan. Her images from Kazan were also selected for exhibition in the 2013 Kolga Tbilisi Photo Festival in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Alison received a BA in Paleoanthropology from New York University and worked as an intern for Meave Leakey at the Kenya National Museum in Nariobi.



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