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OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI & LISANDRU LABAN-GIULIANI / MONGOLIANS

OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI
& LISANDRU LABAN-GIULIANI
/ MONGOLS

MONGOLIANS, AN EXHIBITION BY LABAN-MATTEI & LABAN-GIULIANI

CURATOR: MATTHIEU RYTZ

Guided by chance encounters, a photojournalist and his 11-year-old son criss-cross Mongolia, a country in the midst of an economic and cultural revolution, with their cameras at the ready. They recount and reveal their encounters with the country’s actors, painters, poets, doctors, clandestine gold miners, nomads, and lay bare the country’s contrasts, resulting in a wholly original portrait. Two complementary perspectives and photographic approaches to a world in flux. .

Wedged between two superpowers, the young Mongolian democracy is poised to assert itself in the Asian and worldwide geopolitical arenas. The country is at a turning point in its history, at a crossroads, in the midst of a full-scale economic revolution. And its evolution is both a cause for concern and celebration.
The heavy exploitation of mining resources we’re now seeing has given a boost to many sectors, and created jobs, to become the driving force in the country’s development. And while Mongolia remains one of Asia’s poorest nations, its double-digit annual growth rate – the highest in the world – is constantly on the rise, raising hopes for a brighter future. At any rate, it’s enough to make the planet’s richest countries green with envy in this period of global economic crisis.

With a hint of hyperbole and excitement, some are even dubbing it “Central Asia’s Qatar.” Investors from around the world are beginning to take stock of this new Eldorado. And the country is pulling out all the stops to attract foreign capital, especially considering that its industry is virtually non-existent. Gold, uranium, copper, coal, Mongolia is far from having identified and quantified all its riches.

Everything is speeding up for this country that recently embraced the liberal model. Three million souls occupy an area three times the size of France. Half the population currently lives in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. A demographic imbalance between the economic-political centre and the rest of the country will certainly place a burden on Mongolia in the years to come, unless adequate transport networks are developed to reach the entire territory and create new activity hubs. Nomadism, inherent to the Mongolian people, is irrevocably on the decline.

A land of legends and traditions, Mongolia is now above all a land of contrasts. In cities as in rural areas, the divide between social classes is deepening. Impoverishment is growing, while the Western consumerist model is permanently taking hold. Cities are decked out in their finest to seduce new migrants, for the most part Mongolians. Each person wants to try their luck in this new economic order, even though not all will profit from its potential bonanza. The disenfranchised are numerous, while the newly rich spend their money on the latest luxury products. The middle class, for its part, tries to hold its own and adapt as best it can to changes, in spite of the still-low wages.

Everywhere, one can read and hear about the country getting richer. The enthusiasm of Mongolian leaders and the greed of large national and foreign mining companies appear limitless. At the same time, we must remain vigilant: economic development that’s dependent on one sole type of industry, in this case mining activity, carries a number of risks, including an overreliance on the fluctuations in commodity trading and stock market valuations. The collapse in coal prices, for instance, could thus have dramatic effects on the country’s economy, in addition to a disastrous ecological impact.

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