Ksenia Maksimova.

Story Kilelle. Towards Home

© Ksenia Maksimova.

“Through my project, I aim to explore what remains within myself and the environment around me and to discover something new.” – Ksenia Maksimova

─── by Josh Bright, February 19, 2024
  • “Kilelle. Towards Home” by Kseniya Maksimova, is a captivating visual ode to the land of her birth.

    "Kilelle. Towards Home" by Ksenia Maksimova. Landscape photography of wooden houses next to a river

    Situated in western Russia, the Chuvashia Republic is the native land of the Chuvash people, a Turkic ethnic group with culture and traditions that set them apart from the rest of the country.

    Maksimova was born here, but left at an early age, and though she would return sporadically, over the years she began to lose the language and cultural connection. 

    "Kilelle. Towards Home" by Ksenia Maksimova. Portrait of a woman in traditional headress

    K. Maksimova: I was inspired to create this “Kilelle. Towards Home” by my inner inquiry into who I am, what my identity is, and to whom I belong. Asking myself these questions, I began to delve into the history of my people and immerse myself in it.

    Around the same time, my husband returned to Russia from abroad, and we decided to move back to our homeland, Cheboksary, the capital of the Chuvash Republic. It was the spring of 2023. Upon returning to my homeland, I decided to pick up a camera and explore my national identity through photography. That’s when I began capturing the first images for this project.

    Documentary photography by Ksenia Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: It also seems to me that I was influenced by the crisis in the world due to Russian aggression. There is an opinion that, with the destruction of any value system that unites society, the role of national identity increases in reaction to uncertainty.

    I think that the current destruction of the world’s value system has affected me. During such periods, people often ask themselves questions about who they are, where they come from, and who they are.

    Portrait photography of a woman knitting by Ksenia Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: I found out how complicated and ancient the history of the Chuvash people is. They are one of the oldest peoples of the Volga region in the central part of Russia. Regarding their origin, there are still disputes among scientists and researchers.

    Before joining the Russian state in 1551, the majority of the Chuvash population were pagans. However, later they underwent forced Christianization and the destruction of holy places revered by the Chuvash. Now, the vast majority of the Chuvash people are Orthodox Christians, and the Chuvash traditional faith has been preserved only in some villages.

    Photo of a school classroom by Ksenia Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: The Chuvash language also plays an interesting role. It is the last living language of the Bulgar subgroup of the Turkic languages. According to UNESCO, the Chuvash language is recognized as vulnerable to extinction, as the number of people speaking it is decreasing every year. In the large cities of the Chuvash Republic, the Russian language is used more.

    Portrait photography of young man by Ksenia Maksimova.
    Portrait photography of an elderly woman by Kseniya Maksimova.
    Portrait photography of a man in front of a bookcase by Kseniya Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: I painstakingly gathered the details that were important to me, piece by piece. I delved into the history of my people as it provided me with more insight into the past of my ancestors. I spent a significant amount of time at the family photo archive, inquired about our relatives from my father, and journeyed around my republic with a camera in my hands, meeting new people. The landscapes of Chuvashia with its ravines and hills took me back to my childhood, when I often walked through the Chuvash expanses, spending time in my grandmother’s village.

    Kilelle. Towards Home. Ksenia Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: One of the meetings that left a strong impression on me was the encounter with the Chuvash artist Yuma (Tatiana) Andreeva. I was deeply impressed by her immersion in the world of Chuvash mythology and culture.

    I also observed a growing interest among the younger generation in Chuvash culture. I sensed a renewed enthusiasm for the history of our ancestors, language, and traditions.

    Documentary photography by Ksenia Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: Local artists, activists, and members of the creative community are increasingly engaging with the traditional heritage of the Chuvash Republic, striving to learn the language, which is at risk of extinction. This development brings me joy and inspires me to follow their example. Previously, society was more indifferent to these issues.

    Through the project, my own connection with Chuvashia has strengthened. I began to feel at home among my people and discovered my link with this culture.

    Portrait of an elderly woman having her hair braided by another woman by Ksenia Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: The main message that I want to convey is the importance of knowing the history of your people and preserving the legacy of historical memory. If this knowledge is lost, it is crucial to make efforts to reclaim it. This is especially important when you are a representative of a small nation. The attempt to suppress Chuvash culture has undoubtedly left its mark.

    Old family photo. Documentary photography by Ksenia Maksimova.

    K. Maksimova: I am an example of this. Through my project, I aim to explore what remains within myself and the environment around me and to discover something new. I work in the style of direct photography, capturing what I consider important in my surroundings.

    In photographs of my family members and family archives, I try to convey the idea that the connection of generations plays an important role in understanding who you are. Additionally, through photographs of nature, the city, and the people living there, I strive to become closer to my native places, gain a better understanding of my people, and find my place within it.


    Text and images © Ksenia Maksimova