Communicating Difficult Pasts

Communicating Difficult Pasts is a transdisciplinary project that focuses on the uneasy relations between the past and present and their entangled nature during the 20th and 21st centuries. Issues such as the legacy of right- and left-wing ideologies and their impact on rising populism, intolerance towards cultural difference and marginalisation of ethnic minorities and LGBT communities are entwined in the region with histories of the Holocaust, Soviet repressions and colonialisms. Although these experiences are addressed, researched and discussed in local or national contexts, our project aims at understanding the relationships between these difficult and traumatic pasts and articulating their influences and presence today through the perspective of shared histories.

The project seeks to strengthen collaboration, share knowledge and create synergies between artists, curators, researchers and interdisciplinary scholars who analyse contemporary legacies of the Second World War and the Cold War in their work and who seek novel ways of dealing with difficult pasts.

The project’s activities include:

- The Summer School Communicating Difficult Pasts at the Kuldīga Artist Residence, Latvia (2–7 August 2019), in which the central theme was how violent pasts remain with us and how contemporary artistic research and curatorial projects have found ways to mediate their different dimensions (more info:

- The Symposium Prisms of Silence at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn (21–22 February 2020), which seeks to analyse and understand the prisms through which we could meaningfully reconsider significant silences. Our particular interest is in rethinking the silences about WWII, its aftermath and the Soviet era in order to explore productive ways of understanding today’s social change.

- The Exhibition Communicating Difficult Pasts
at the Latvian National Museum of Art (28 November 2020 – 7 February 2021), which will foreground the legacy that difficult histories have left to contemporary realities throughout the region. Through critical understanding of the continuities between past and present, the exhibition will also seek perspectives that allow us to move towards a future that precludes repeating past calamities.

The initiators and curators of Communicating Difficult Pasts are Margaret Tali and Ieva Astahovska. The project is organised in collaboration with the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Estonian Academy of Arts, Institute of Art History and Visual Culture.

The project is supported by the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture, the State Culture Capital Foundation in Latvia, Kuldīga District Council, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, the Kuldīga Artist Residency, the Art Academy of Latvia  and COST European Cooperation in Science and Technology.

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