Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art
Photos: Margarita Ogoļcova / Asja Mandić, Annika Toots, Jan Miklas-Frankowski
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On 21–22 February 2020 the symposium “Prisms of Silence” was held at the Estonian Art Academy in Tallinn. The event brought together artists, curators, art historians and literary and theatre scholars from Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Chechnya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, UK, France, Israel, Canada and Finland, to discuss the contemporary legacies of the twentieth-century past. The event aimed to rethink the silences about WWII, its aftermath and the Soviet era, and reflected on the present social change that evolves from it. The project concept evolved from the necessity to understand the darker sides of twentieth-century Baltic history, while setting it in a broader geopolitical context and including perspectives of minority communities. 

In the course of this symposium we asked: How can we think about silence, for instance, in relation to the rise of right-wing movements and in relation to the repression of women and minority communities? Does post-conflict silence embed different qualities for different communities, and if so how could they be described? Which ethical and aesthetic strategies have been used to communicate the unspoken and silenced past? How can oral history and vernacular memories challenge and shift official narratives of history, where difficult subjects like the relationships between antisemitism and communism, the Holocaust and Soviet deportations, often remain contested?

It might well be that trauma can best be analysed by crossing disciplinary boundaries. Presentations at the “Prisms of Silence” symposium brought to the fore recent research that relies on art, literature, film and exhibitions as well as biographical material and revisited the role of the arts in analysing the persistence of memory conflicts. Presenters discussed alternative ways of commemorating long-silenced traumas, revisited dissident activism based on missing histories of women and examined repression of different minority histories as well as ethical ways of communicating trauma and experiences of violence in the work of artists, writers and playwrights. By bringing together research across disciplinary boundaries the symposium aimed to add to the current frameworks of researching trauma and sought for new methods of approaching long-silenced subjects. 

Symposium team

Curators: Margaret Tali and Ieva Astahovska 

Coordinator: Mari Laaniste

Visual identity and design: Alexey Murashko 

Photographer: Margarita Ogoļceva

The symposium was supported by the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Estonian Academy of Arts, EKA Creative Cluster, Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators and COST European Cooperation in Science and Technology.