Catherine Hyland’s latest photo series, Rise of the Mongolians, is one of juxtaposition – of expectation and reality, of the weather, of the new and the old – but it is also one of camaraderie and friendship; a tale of a young group of Mongolians who are participants in an unlikely yet thriving sumo wrestling scene.
“I first heard about [the scene] whilst reading a Forbes article about Dagvadorj Dolgorsurengiin which was published in 2012,” Catherine recalls, “where they referenced him as the Michael Jordan of sumo wrestling.” The article outlined Dagvadorj’s rise to prominence, the fastest in the sport’s history, going from professional debut to champion in just 24 tournaments. Then, at the age of 22, Dagvadorj began investing his winnings back home in Mongolia, making him one of the country’s richest businessmen. “I felt like I could visualize that scene so vividly, that I began researching the subject on and off for years and the idea continued to niggle at me, until I thought, ‘I just have to make work about this,’” she continues.
Today, the Japanese sport is thriving among the historically nomadic, but rapidly changing nation. And at the heart of this is the coach and mentor Davaagiin Batbayar, whose voice provides the narration for the short.
The tension between urban and rural, new and old, sun and snow, forms the backbone of the narrative of Rise of the Mongolians. Moving it beyond a story of athletes, these young wrestlers become symbols for the huge changes Mongolia has faced. At once they represent the traditional, nomadic lifestyle as they wrestle in the intense light of the village scenes, and the country’s more urban future which incorporates the diverse elements of other cultures, such as sumo wrestling, for example. Underlying it all, however, is an intimate depiction of these young boys’ friendship and determination.