Daesung Lee’s photography – 75% of Mongolia might turn into a desert

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

35% of Mongolians are still nomads

Daesung Lee’s Futuristic Archeology project deals with the nomadic people of Mongolia. Although Mongolia has seen increasing modernization and urbanization in recent decades, approximately 35% of Mongolians still live a traditional nomadic lifestyle, thus depending on the vast land and their relationship with the land to survive.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

Mongolia’s land can barely be used for farming. A nomadic lifestyle is a response to react to the circumstances while using little resources. However, environmental changes have put their way of life in grave danger, as the land is becoming at risk of desertification.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

Adding to the existing challenges is the pollution of the environment, which directly affects the water and farmland where livestock feed. Mongolia is rich in natural resources such as oil, gold, copper, iron, coal, etc. Mining them is the leading cause of pollution.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

There is also the cashmere industry which contributes to the existing problems. Cashmere goats, a goat that produces cashmere wool, eat the roots of grass, further speeding up desertification.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

Environmental changes in Mongolia

Throughout history, nomadic life has been central to traditional Mongolian culture. With social and economic changes, in addition to undeniable environmental and climate changes, pursuing a traditional way of life has become difficult and will be increasingly so. Impacts on the environment are causing the land itself to transform.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

Some organizations have tried approaching the challenge by planting trees around settlements to stop the desertification process. However, Mongolia is an enormous country that naturally limits the effects that these initiatives may have.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

Approximately 850 lakes and 2,000 rivers and streams have dried up in Mongolia, and a subsequent consequence of this loss of water has led to the desertification of Mongolia.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

75% of Mongolia turn into a desert

It is said that approximately 75% of Mongolian territory is potentially at risk of desertification1. These changes to the land and environment directly threaten the Mongolian traditional nomadic ways of life, a significant part of group identity.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

A nomadic lifestyle doesn’t require a lot of money. However, due to the developments, many have been forced to move to Ulaanbaatar, the capital. This has started causing social challenges.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

Many of the newly arrived residents are forced to earn a living by collecting waste for recycling. The former nomads have a difficult time adjusting to urban life. They often lack the skills required to have a traditional job.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

The nomadic ways of life have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years and play a significant part in traditional identity, ancestral history, and notions of self.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

The meaning of Lee’s photos

Lee’s project serves as an attempt to recreate a museum diorama, however, without using a studio and models, Lee uses actual people, their livestock, in the traditional countryside, the desertified lands in Mongolia. South Korean artist Lee creates idyllic backdrops and prints these images on billboards.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

He then places the billboards in line with the actual landscape’s horizon. In doing so, Lee conveys that the lives of the nomadic people of Mongolia occur between their reality of a disappearing landscape and the space of a museum.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

This forces viewers to recognize that the changes that are happening are forcing traditional ways into extinction, and may one day only exist in museums.

Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee - Futuristic Archeology
Daesung Lee – Futuristic Archeology

All images: Daesung Lee unless otherwise noted.

Art in deserts

Footnotes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_issues_in_Mongolia#Desertification

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