Exhibition “Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds”

The exhibition “Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds” takes place from 28 November 2020 till 7 February 2021 at the Latvian National Museum of Art in Autumn 2020. It sheds light on difficult, often omitted subjects in the Baltic and Eastern European region and turns to the complex legacies of the twentieth century. Despite being suppressed in collective memory, these subjects and legacies often continue to influence today’s reality.

From April 29 to August 28 2022 an expanded version of this exhibition is open for visits at Vilnius National Art Gallery.

Find out more about the exhibition here:

An insight into the exhibition “Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds” 

Video: Toms Taukulis

The past inevitably includes difficult and traumatic aspects. However, these difficult sides are often neglected when comforting stories are shared that stress overcoming such challenges. The stories this exhibition brings together the 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, and are focused on this complex heritage in the Baltic and Eastern European region.

The exhibition includes works by artists from the three Baltic countries, Ukraine, Poland, Chechnya, Finland and the Netherlands. The experiences the works evoke are often forgotten or ignored, excluded from official histories. Artists included 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, their impact and presence today through the perspective of a shared history—offering dialogues, forging connections and foregrounding solidarities between the different difficult histories that are often perceived as incompatible or in competition with each other.

Several works focus on imperial politics and their legacies and call for them to be interpreted anew. What kind of consequences have Soviet and post-Soviet colonial policies had on individual lives and entire nations in the 20th and 21st centuries? 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, while Aslan Ġoisum’s work addresses the violence of the Chechen war.

Women’s experiences are invoked in the works of Zuzanna Hertzberg in relation to the Spanish Civil War, while the traumatic journey to Siberia in a women’s wagon is animated by Ülo Pikkov, a painful memory that connects contexts throughout the former Soviet Union. The silence around the Roma Holocaust is approached by Jaana Kokko, who using oral history researched into the strands of writer and leftist politician Hella Wuolijoki’s life in present-day Valga/Valka.

The exhibition also highlights so-called postmemories, 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 ‘body memories’ is addressed in works by Lia Dostlieva and Andrii Dostliev and by Ülo Pikkov. Both 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 the second old apple trees are given agency to remember and connect people with the sites of their former homes from which they were violently uprooted.

What is our involvement in these pasts?, Paulina Pukyte asks, reminding viewers of the coexistence of the past and future in the repetitions of histories that are not acknowledged and worked through. How can this past be thought of today, when the totalitarian ideology has been replaced by neoliberal consumer capitalism, which also manipulates our desires and free will?

Last but not least Quinsy Gario asks how can Latvia’s historical connection to the colonial past through the 17th-century colonies of the Duchy of Courland be perceived today? Is it a matter of national self-confidence—as is often suggested in cultural works, theatre plays and films—or is it a part of the violent history of global colonialism? How can we understand the relationships between colonialism, Soviet socialism and capitalism?

During the exhibition illustrator Vivianna Maria Stanislavska will make a graphic intervention – a visual dialogue with the art works, drawing parallels with the exhibition I Remember, Therefore I Am. Unwritten Stories: Women Artists' Archives on display in the 4th floor exhibition hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art.

The exhibition is accompanied by public program – online events and creative workshops.

28 November, 13:00–15:00 "Curing Histories?" is an online discussion in English with the exhibition artists, that will ask whether we could think of artistic work as a way of curing histories. Discussion will focus on artistic ways of dealing with difficult past and the methods they have found to approach their subjects.

8 December 8, 11:00–13:30 “How to Talk to Children and Young People about Difficult History?” an online seminar in Latvian for museum educators and parents. Its participants will share institutional and individual experiences to discuss how art and other creative fields can help to break silences on difficult historical subjects and support understanding of complex relations between past and present.

Follow the discussions on the live stream or watch them later:  

Several online workshops will be held in collaboration with the exhibition's artists. The dates of the creative workshops will be specified later.

For the information please see:

The exhibition forms part of Communicating Difficult Pasts, an international and interdisciplinary project which actively engages with the uncomfortable and often forgotten sides of history in order to understand their influence in the Baltic region and neighboring countries. The project has fostered collaboration and synergy between artists, curators and researchers who seek new approaches and means to study difficult legacies and to overcome their omission.

Artists: Aslan Ġoisum, Jaana Kokko, Lia Dostlieva, Andrii Dostliev, Paulina Pukytė, Quinsy Gario, Ülo Pikkov, Vika Eksta, Zuzanna Hertzberg.

Curated by Ieva Astahovska and Margaret Tali.

The exhibition is organized and produced by Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA) and the Latvian National Museum of Art (LNMM). 

Project management: Anete Skuja (LLMC)

Exposition design: Līva Kreislere

Graphic design: Alexey Murashko

Graphic intervention in the exhibition: Vivianna Maria Staņislavska

Exhibition coordinator: Laura Dravniece (LNMM)

Curators of educational programs: Māra Žeikare (LLMC), Laura Dravniece (LNMM)

Information and publicity: Gundega Turnele (LLMC), Natālija Sujunšalijeva (LNMM)

The exhibition is supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation in Latvia, Riga City Council, the Foundation for Arts Initiative, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Frame Contemporary Art Finland, Mondriaan Fund, Estonian Cultural Endowment, Embassy of Estonia in Latvia, smart technology company Solavi.

Collaboration partners: Latvian National Museum of Art, Museum Jews in Latvia, Pauls Stradiņš Museum for History of Medicine, Riga Psychiatry and Narcology Centre Museum.

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