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Makhachkala, Republic of Dagestan


The Republic of Dagestan is one of the regions of Russia where patriarchal worldview and traditions dominate in society, imposing restrictions on a person’s behavior, hobbies, and appearance. The restrictions are accepted and considered to be natural here, as people’s choices are strongly guided by public opinion. But however traditional a society might be, and however negatively dissent might be viewed, there are always people out there who seek a different life.

The heroes of the project are young people of Dagestan who are not afraid to be different and challenge conservative social norms and stereotypes every day despite the fact that most people condemn them.

Karina (23 years old)
Karina loves her colored hair and the trips round her homeland of Dagestan which she goes on with her friends. And while travelling does not surprise anyone in the region, the colored hair often attracts attention. She says she is used to it because her parents have always supported her desire for self-expression. And this helps her to be who she is, and not to adapt to public opinion and stereotypes.

Jamilya (22 years old)
It has been more than 10 years since Jamila moved to Dagestan, but she still does not feel at home in her homeland. She says that she experiences fear and stress when she goes outside because she faces prejudice toward her appearance, and it happens that conflict situations arise.

Khizri (18 years old)
Khizri is taking his bachelor’s degree in journalism. He writes poetry, prose, sometimes acts as a stand-up comedian. He says that it is difficult to fulfil your potential, especially in a creative industry, if you live in Dagestan. Even if you try to do something, there still will be only a small number of people who will know and support you. Most of the people choose to be skeptical and uncomprehending when it comes to the new, he says. But Khizri believes that despite facing non-acceptance and pressure, “we must go our own way”.

Zumrud (23 years old)
Zumrud used to weave dream catchers, but she had to give up her hobby because she was accused of being a “witch” and “charlatan”. And even now, when she paints ordinary portraits, she has to deal with unwelcome remarks a la “drawing is haram according to Islam.”

Maria (20 years old)
Maria is a tattoo artist, but she cannot reveal her profession to everyone, because many Dagestani people are negative about everything related to tattoos. She has to face negative remarks aimed at her, but most often she does not react to them and everything goes on peacefully. Maria thought of moving somewhere else to be free from all the restrictions the society poses on its members here. However, she loves her homeland very much, even though it gives her hard times every now and then.

Timerlan (26 years old)
Timerlan has recently moved to Makhachkala, and he is going to open a workshop to manufacture dishes and furniture. He has a very noticeable appearance, which often attracts attention, especially in Dagestan. But nevertheless,the circumstances do not make Timerlan feel uncomfortable, and he tries not to focus on them. According to him, his main priority is to learn to live comfortably in any conditions and to be himself everywhere. The disadvantages of living in Dagestan do not prevent him from loving his homeland and traditions.

Nika (19 years old)
Nika is a student and enjoys cosplay in her free time. She has a blog on Instagram, where she uploads photos of her looks. And quite often “well-wishers” write to her criticizing what she does. Nika has been doing karate since childhood, and can defend herself if necessary, but still she does not feel safe.

Asya (20 years old)
Asya is a designer. She wasn’t born and raised in Dagestan, so moving here and adapting to the local mentality was difficult for her. Asya says that she is uncomfortable living in Dagestan, because people consider it their duty to tell you how you should look, and anything different from the generally accepted is perceived negatively.

Ali (25 years old)
Ali has recently moved to Dagestan where, as he realized afterwards, some people might dislike those who have tattoos. The tattoos have frequently brought him into trouble with locals. Ali lived outside Dagestan for a long time, which makes it difficult or him to integrate into the local mentality and culture. He hopes that over time, people will be more easy-going about each other and stop trying to change those who do not look or act like them.

Arina (18 years old)
Arina has a lot of hobbies, and she likes her appearance and interests to stand out in a crowd. Her parents mostly support her, which perhaps makes it easier for Arina to pay less attention to the negativity that she sometimes has to deal with. She says that life in Dagestan reminds her of a quest video game where you have to overcome obstacles, and every day you find new ways to act and do whatever you like.

Madina Gadjieva

Documentary and portrait photographer. Was born in Makhachkala, Republic of Dagestan in 1989. She was born and lives in Makhachkala, Republic of Dagestan. In… More »

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