In Pictures: The evolution of Mongolia’s fledgling skateboarding scene

In Pictures: The evolution of Mongolia’s fledgling skateboarding scene
From Dirt to Dust — Meet the skateboarders building a new community and fighting for space in a rapidly changing country.

For centuries, Mongolia was one of the most isolated countries on Earth. And it remains one of the most sparsely populated, with its traditionally nomadic people living a unique existence amid the infinite steppes.

But since the fall of the Soviet Union, the last two decades have seen it become one of the fastest growing countries in the world as international companies have sought to grab its precious natural resources.

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Back in 2004, an international crew of skateboarders witnessed the rapid pace of change firsthand. After making a pilgrimage to a giant skate park in Ulaanbaatar they’d seen in photos, they arrived to discover it had been gobbled up by the city’s frenetic development.

But being skaters, this was just the beginning of the real adventure. Criss-crossing the country to explore Mongolia’s fledgling scene, their adventure became the photobook Dirt Ollies and film Mongolian Tyres.

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Ten years later, the same team have collaborated on From Dirt to Dust, which looks at how Mongolia has changed over the last decade and skateboarding’s role in the urban revolution of the country.

Skateboarding is their lens to document the huge changes sweeping the country, as a once nomadic people increasingly floods to the country’s only major city, Ulaanbaatar – bringing elements of their ancient culture with them, but leaving much behind.

Photo by Percy Dean

Photo by Percy Dean

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

It’s accompanied by the short film, Out of Steppe, which looks at the contrast between skateboarding in the sweeping steppes and forgotten Mongolian towns with the blossoming urban scene.

With contributions from writers, photographers, skateboarders and an architect, From Dirt to Dust presents a multilayered meditation on the immense physical and social changes underway.

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Cyril Weiner

Photo by Percy Dean

Photo by Percy Dean

As Mongolia emerges gingerly into a modern globalised world, skateboarding is one of many pieces of the puzzle as a new democratic/post-Soviet generation works out how to carve out its own distinct identity, which also respects Mongolia’s rich cultural traditions. It’s also at the heart of battles over who has space to express themselves in the anarchic development of its urban landscape and who gets a say over the path their fast-moving country takes.

From Dirt to Dust is out now, published by 19/80 Éditions and Carhartt WIP.

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