Autumn 2010

Photo Finish

Mask of Sorrow

This is an image of The Mask of Sorrow, a statue in the northeastern Russian city of Magadan commemorating the scores of political prisoners who suffered and died in the Soviet Gulag system. The picture is part of a collection of photos from the Madagan area curated by the husband and wife team of Elena Khlinovskaya Rockhill and Lawrence Khlinovskaya Rockhill. The photos were taken by Pavel Zhdanov and Audrey Osipov, who was born and still lives in Madagan.

Elena is the principal investigator for a Canadian Circumpolar Institute-based (CCI) international project called "Moved by the State: Perspectives on Relocation and Resettlement in the Circumpolar North." Her husband is a University of Cambridge professor emeritus and visiting scholar at the U of A’s CCI.

From 1932 to 1953, Magadan was the administrative centre for the Stalin-era Gulag forced labour prison camps in that region of the Soviet Union. Designed by famed sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, The Mask of Sorrow consists of a statue of a face with tears coming from the left eye in the form of small masks. The right eye is in the form of a barred window. The back side portrays a weeping young woman and a headless man on a cross. Inside is a replication of a typical Gulag prison cell.

The Soviet Union once heavily subsidized Madagan to attract people to the region to work the mines and develop other resources. When the funding dried up in post-Soviet times, nearly 60 percent of the population left the region. As a social anthropologist, Elena is fascinated by the spirit of those who have chosen to remain and thinks that spirit may resonate with northern Canadians.

The Madagan exhibit is part of the CCI’s celebration of its 50th anniversary and will be on display beginning in October at the Cameron Library.

For more on the Canadian Circumpolar Institute go to