• Photos: Gintarė Grigėnaitė

  • Quinsy Gario and Mina Ouaourist—We Offered Maurice Dates, Grasshoppers and Water Pt. 2

  • Quinsy Gario and Mina Ouaourist—We Offered Maurice Dates, Grasshoppers and Water Pt. 2

  • Ülo Pikkov—Body Memory

  • Eléonore de Montesquiou—33 Monsters

  • Eléonore de Montesquiou—33 Monsters

  • Anastasia Sosunova—Coders

  • Lia Dostlieva and Adrii Dostliev—I still feel sorry when I throw away food… Grandma used to tell me stories about Holodomor

  • Lia Dostlieva and Adrii Dostliev—I still feel sorry when I throw away food… Grandma used to tell me stories about Holodomor

  • Zuzanna Hertzberg—Volunteers for Freedom

  • Zuzanna Hertzberg—Volunteers for Freedom

  • Matīss Gricmanis and Ona Juciūtė—Mermaid

  • Paulina Pukytė—Shadows

  • Paulina Pukytė—Ghosts

  • Laima Kreivytė—Mortification. In Search of the Black Book

  • Vika Eksta—Conversations with Dad

  • Vika Eksta—Conversations with Dad

  • Jaana Kokko—Roma Mountain

Exhibition in Vilnius

From April 29, the exhibition "Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds" dedicated to the painful histories of Eastern European countries is on view at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius. The exhibition organized by the LCCA and National Gallery of Art will be open until 28 August 2022.

Artists: Anastasia Sosunova, Eléonore de Montesquiou, Jaana Kokko, Laima Kreivytė, Lia Dostlieva & Andrii Dostliev, Matīss Gricmanis & Ona Juciūtė, Quinsy Gario & Mina Ouaouirst, Paulina Pukytė, Ülo Pikkov, Vika Eksta and Zuzanna Hertzberg.

Curators: Ieva Astahovska, Margaret Tali and Eglė Mikalajūnė.

With the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the past has returned in Eastern Europe, changing from something distant into a present-day disaster for millions of people. The invasion that started in 2014 with Crimea, Luhansk and Donbass was often dismissed by the international community, but it has now grown into a situation that is affecting the whole world. This conflict hits Eastern Europe most alarmingly, reviving many silences, unhealed wounds and unprocessed memories of the totalitarian past.

We are used to thinking about past times through the lens of national histories, with their selective, smoothed and linear narrations, instead of the plural, messy and nonlinear stories shared in daily life. The difficult sides of these histories have often been neglected; instead, comforting stories are told that stress positive narratives and ways of overcoming challenges. This exhibition brings together difficult and often-silenced aspects of pasts that include violent conflicts, traumatic losses and their long-term legacies. The difficult pasts addressed here involve nationalist and communist regimes, recent warfare and histories of colonialism, the uneasy balances between modes of survival and collaboration and the ongoing specificities of post-soviet societies coping with the shadows of the past.

Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds includes works by artists from the three Baltic countries, Ukraine, Poland, Finland and the Netherlands. The experiences the works evoke are ones that are often forgotten or ignored, excluded from official histories. Artists in the exhibition narrate those experiences through individual stories, while evoking broader layers of cultural memory. Overcoming local and national borders, the exhibition calls for reflection on the relationships between difficult pasts and their impact and presence today through the perspective of a shared history—opening dialogue, forging connections and foregrounding solidarities between the different difficult histories that are often perceived as incompatible or in competition with each other.

The exhibition includes works that highlight body memories, which refer to the affective ways that the tragedies of the past continue to live on in the following generations. The presence of traumatic pasts in such physical memories is addressed by Lia Dostlieva and Andrii Dostliev and by Ülo Pikkov, whose works draw connections between the environment and the body. In the first, it is the body that becomes an important site for understanding the imperceptible scale of the Holodomor in Ukraine, which was part of the greater Soviet Famine of 1932 to 1933. In the second, Pikkov gives old apple trees the agency to remember and connect people with the sites of their former homes, from which they were violently uprooted during the mass deportations of the Stalin era.

Several works focus on unlearning inherited histories, with artists actively seeking to interpret them anew. How was the Baltic region engaged in colonial processes that were shaped by Western and Soviet imperial imaginaries and ambitions? What kind of consequences have these colonial politics had on individual lives and entire nations? Quinsy Gario and Mina Ouaouirst bring together places as distant as the lands of Imazighen in today’s Morocco, Switzerland, Latvia, Lithuania and the Caribbean Island of Curaçao. Their work connects the imagined journeys of Saint Maurice during the 3rd century, 17th-century Baltic colonial history in the Caribbean and the story of Dutch diplomat Jan Zwartendijk, who issued visas to Jewish refugees, enabling them to escape from Kaunas to Curaçao during WWII. Vika Eksta refers to the forgotten Soviet war in Afghanistan, in which many people from Soviet republics, including Latvia, were made to fight against their will. Created in 2020, the work has acquired new connotations after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Experiences of women are the focus of Zuzanna Hertzberg in her works addressing the Spanish Civil War, while the traumatic journey to Siberia in a women’s wagon is animated in the work by Ülo Pikkov, a painful memory that connects contexts throughout the former Soviet Union. Researching the life story of the Finnish-Estonian playwright Hella Wuolijoki, Jaana Kokko interviews women in the border town of Valga/Valka, bringing their everyday life and motherhood into focus and arriving, through these encounters, at the neglected topic of the Roma genocide.

Two works invoke often-neglected and overshadowed queer histories. Eléonore de Montesquiou revives a history of lesbian love by bringing renewed attention to the silenced landmark novel 33 Monsters (1907), written by her foremother Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal. Matīss Gricmanis and Ona Juciūtė present an audio installation based on the diaries of Kaspars Irbe, a queer man who lived in Latvia and witnessed the 20th-century’s tumultuous events as well as daily life through the very specific lens of a person with a double identity. Both works are seminal for rethinking the often-neglected plurality of identities in the Baltic region.

Several works remind us of the burdens and vulnerabilities that the continuity of the Soviet past brings on individuals and societies. In Paulina Pukytė’s work, inheritance of this past is ghostly as she sets crystal bowls and glasses in places we don’t expect them. Also the shadows in another work by her that exist without clear sources function as part of the same discomfort and uncertainty. The continuous reliance on practices of cure established during the authoritarian era is important for Sosunova. She researches coding, an addiction treatment method created during the 1980s which is still being used in contemporary post-Soviet health care.

In her work, Laima Kreivytė questions our involvement in these pasts and asks what is the agency of intellectual and cultural figures in tumultuous times? Kreivytė searches for the Black Book of Lithuanian poet Salomėja Nėris, which may contain uncertain aspects of her own understanding of her involvement in the political shift of in that country.

The exhibition was first shown in 2020 at the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga, as part of Communicating Difficult Pasts, an international and interdisciplinary project which engages with the uncomfortable and often forgotten sides of history in order to understand their influences in the Baltic region and neighboring countries. The current exhibition is organized within the framework of the project “From Complicated Past Towards Shared Futures,” which is a collaboration between the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art in Riga, the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius (Lithuanian National Museum of Art), OFF-Biennale in Budapest, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, and Malmö Art Museum. The project seeks to explore and communicate the entanglements of past and present, and is searching for new ways how art and culture can raise awareness of these issues for the wider public and influence current realities.

Exhibition design: Jonas Žukauskas

Graphic designer: Alexey Murashko

Curator of the education programme: Eglė Nedzinskaitė

Exhibition coordinators: Elza Medne, Selīna Paula Sproģe

Translators: Emilija Ferdmanaitė, Marius Juknevičus, Egidija Mačiulytė, Urtė Liepuoniūtė

Copyeditors: Laura Patiomkinaitė-Čeikė, Melinda Johnston

Organisers: Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Art, Lithuanian National Museum of Art

The exhibition is supported by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, European Union Programme “Creative Europe,” Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Frame Contemporary Art Finland, Nordic Council of Ministers, Mondriaan Fund, Exterus, Imparat. Media sponsor:

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