Sweet Salt of Emptiness

Aleksandra Bardas

2018 - Ongoing

The project “Sweet salt of emptiness” is dedicated to the ecological disaster of the Aral Sea whose dehydration has a great impact on the daily life and culture of the people in this region.

In Soviet times, all republics were to fulfill the economic plan. Uzbekistan had to grow cotton in huge quantities. Water of the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya, the rivers which flow into the Aral Sea, was used to irrigate the fields. Less and less water reached the Aral Sea. Its dehydratation began which caused other problems. Drying out in the desert turned over by 100 degrees, drinking water ran out. All fish factories were closed. If in 1960 fishing catch amounted to 40,000 tons, in the mid-80s it decreased to only 2 tons. Local fisheries simply ceased to exist, more than 60,000 jobs were lost. People were forced to leave their homes and look for a new residence in order to find a job and feed their families. Pesticides used for irrigation of fields got into the groundwater.

Since the 1970s the number of gastrointestinal diseases has increased dramatically. Typhoid, paratyphoid, hepatitis and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis spread as well (Doctors without borders). Infant mortality rate equals to 24,1 cases per 1,000 infants during the first year of life (WTO). Low quality of breast milk contributes to this.

Back in the day the Aral Sea coast used to enjoy roaring surfs and listen to shrill calls of seagulls.

Sitting on the shore, one could watch ships coming and going. Then people did not know that they would make a vital error. Today the coastline has moved away for hundreds kilometers, having turned the seabed into the salty desert of Aralkum, strewn with white shells reminding of the gone sea. This story is not only about disappearance of the Aral Sea, but also about people whose lives, continuously depleted, are being tested every day.

Waste, sandy, depleted soil is a metaphor. It reflects the state of human soul of the entire population of the region who have lost not only their culture, but also the source of life, water. Salt reminds us of unsufferable pain and repentance. All what is left looking at these vast spaces, is the memories and hope that the new generation will be able to change something for the better. I invite you to walk with me along the Aral Sea bed to feel the atmosphere of emptiness, salt in the air and sufferings of nature.

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  • The river Amudarya, which used to flow in Aralsee, ends today 300 km away from Lake Aral, Nukus 2018

  • Nukus inherited the architecture of the Soviet era. Unfortunately, this architecture does not match the climate in this region. Huge areas without trees create a sauna effect in the summer.

  • The Nukus Capital of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan is 300 km from the shores of the Aral Sea. The desertification also reaches Nukus. The soil is dry, the population has water problems. The fontains without water have no function, but are still built by tradition. In the past, parks with trees and fountains were a rescue from the heat. Nukus 2018.

  • Sudochje lake near the Aral Sea. In the sixties, fishing used about 60,000 tons, whereas in the early 80's it was only 8,000 tons. Today, there are hardly any fish in the Aral Sea. All fish factories were closed. 2018

  • Remains of the dry Aral sea in Muinak. There used to be a medical sanatorium at this place. The sanatorium has long been gone, but people still sometimes come to sit in salt, believing that it has a therapeutic effect. 2018

  • Grocery and the store for charging from mobile account in Muinak. 2018

  • Dried up shores of the Aral Sea. The deserted and dried bottom of the Aral Sea extends for 300 kilometers. In this space you rarely see signs of any kind of life. Only experienced drivers can ride this route. In the desert there are practically no landmarks and no paved roads. 2018

  • A Rusian family of pilots have lost their jobs. After the desiccation of the Aral Sea, the large airport in Muinak, which had the connection to Moscow, was closed. The pilots built their own garage in the yard and occasionally earn the money. Muinak 2018.

  • All that remains of the fish factory on Lake Sudochje in the vicinity of the Aral Sea.

  • Village "Topi" . Near the city of Chimbay, on the Road to Aral Sea. On the right side is the senior family member Jizimgul with her daughters and daughters-in-law.They still bake bread themselves and weave carpets.The woman with the child is Kisimgul, her sister-in-law died during childbirth and Kisimgul took her son to be raised, while the father is on earnings. Topi Aul, 2019

  • Sudochje lake near to Aral Sea.There used to be a fishery here, but today no one lives here except a few fishermen. There was nothing left of the factory. Sudochje lake 2018.

  • Women and girls have a huge weight in karakalpak society. Epic legendary poems describe Karakalpak girls as Amazons, warrior girls. Even today, girls are distinguished by special initiative, ownership, courage, which can be envied. Topi Aul , 2019

  • Roasted ships in Muinak are now where formerly Aral Sea started. Today you can only see the desert, which also continues beyond the horizon. Muinak 2018.

  • On the dried-up shore of the Aral Sea you will not only find salt, but also pesticides that whirl with the storms in the air. This is the reason of tuberculosis and lung problems of many people in this region. aral Sea 2018.