BROTHERS AND SISTERS
BY MIKA SPERLING
Mika Sperling was born in Norilsk, Russia. She grew up in Germany, in a family of ten.
In her work, she focuses on narrative portraits. During her studies, she began to work on a project about the ethnical-religious group of Russian Mennonites she used to be part of until the age of thirteen. As she spent more time in the community, questions arose about her own identity and together with the interviews she took, the project developed a reflection of her own fears and thoughts.
Mika is among the LensCulture Emerging Talents of 2015. She was fortunate to be nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass 2015 and is one of the participants at the ISSP in Latvia and the Eddie Adams Workshop in Jeffersonville, New York in 2015.
Mika is currently based in Germany, working as a freelance photographer.
Since their birth in the 16th century as a branch of Christianity, the Mennonites have faced persecution and suppression. Indeed, for nearly three centuries, they have been in near constant movement. During the World Wars, their bitter fate reached its climax. Originally, a Germanic community, the group reached Ukraine, only to be shipped off to Siberia.
During the economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s, 100,000 Mennonites immigrated to Germany. Soon, over a hundred of their Brethren churches were founded, with about 30,000 members. At the same time, Canada also became a new destination for the emigrants.
Across this diaspora, they are connected by their faith, their culture and their Low German dialect.
As a child my oldest sister took us to Sunday school as my parents did not raise us religious. I was thirteen when I stopped attending church services and never thought I would come back with a camera and the idea of a project about them. Working on the project has challenged me in many ways, as I have been forced to face my personal fears about being judged for being not a faithful Mennonite anymore. It was a very personal process and I am glad I met so many people who let me inside their lives and thoughts, because one way to gain trust was to open myself completely and I became quite vulnerable. Today four of my sisters are members of Brethren Churches.
The question about the individuality of my faithful brothers and sisters lead me to families in Russia, Germany and Canada. Curiosity about their thoughts, wishes, dreams and fears increased my desire to portrait them in their daily lifes and let them tell their stories through interviews.
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