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Radek Skrivanek

Radek Skrivanek was born and raised in the Czech Republic. In 1989 he attended the School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and got his BFA from Tufts University. Skrivanek’s photographs have been exhibited internationally and his work can be found in the collections of the Portland Art Museum, Oregon, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

 

I first learned about the Aral Sea growing up in Czechoslovakia, during the communist era. Our geography teacher taught us how the waters of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, two major rivers that fed the Aral Sea, were used to create opportunities for farmers and put food on people's tables. On the 1960s, the Soviet Union engineered a large-scale diversion of the two rivers. Since then, their water flowed not into the Aral basin, but into a canal system that irrigates cotton fields instead. This was, we were told, one of our great achievements. In reality, it was one of the worst environmental disasters the world has seen – the slow death of the Aral Sea.

In 2004, I decided to investigate the fate of the vanishing sea. Walking on the desert that is the former sea bed, the ecological tragedy becomes clear. The basin is nothing but a vast wasteland, covered by salt and pesticides from the surrounding agricultural fields. The incidence of chronic disease amongst locals is significantly higher. The toxicity of the environment is such that the maternal milk has been contaminated, resulting in one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Fish species have died off. A once prosperous fishing industry has collapsed. Many of the old ships still linger in the dried out harbors.

The world's fourth largest lake is gone. My body of work on the shrinking Aral Sea documents the impact and legacy of this complex environmental issue inherited from the former communist regime.

– Radek Skrivanek