28.11.2020. - 07.02.2021.
Latvian National Museum of Art

Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds

Exhibition of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art

The Cupola Hall of the main building of the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga (Jaņa Rozentāla laukums 1) will host the exhibition “Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds” organized by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art. The project sheds light on difficult as well as omitted subjects in the Baltic and Eastern European region and turn to the complex legacies of the 20th century which still continue to influence today’s reality.

The past inevitably includes difficult and traumatic aspects. However, these difficult sides are usually neglected when comforting stories are shared that stress overcoming such challenges. The stories of this exhibition bring together the difficult and often-silenced aspects of pasts including violent conflicts, painful 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 forgotten or ignored, excluded from official histories. Artists narrate those experiences through personal stories, while exploring broader layers of cultural memory.

Overcoming local and national borders, the project 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 sometimes are perceived as incompatible or in competition with each other.

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 wars.

Women’s experiences are invoked in the works of Zuzanna Hertzberg in relation to the Spanish Civil War. The dramatic 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 as well as 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 Pukytė 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?

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?

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 co-operation between artists, curators and researchers who seek new approaches and means to study difficult legacies and to overcome their omission.

The exhibition is accompanied by public programme – online events and creative workshops:

 1) An online discussion Curing Hisotries? in English with the exhibition participants is scheduled for 28 November 2020 at 1–3 pm. Discussion will focus on artistic ways of dealing with difficult past and the methods they have found to approach their subjects.

2) An online seminar in Latvian for museum educators and parents How to Talk to Children and Young People about Difficult History? will take place on 8 December 2020 at 11 am – 1:30 pm. 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. 

3) Several online creative workshops will be held in collaboration with the exhibition artists. The dates will be specified later. 

About The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art 
The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA) is the largest institution of contemporary art in Latvia, curating and producing contemporary art events on a national and international scale. Since 1993, it has researched and curated contemporary art processes both in Latvia and abroad, aiming to provoke critical reflection on issues relevant to contemporary society. The LCCA is widely recognized for its annual international contemporary art festival Survival Kit and its regular exhibitions at the Latvian National Museum of Art, as well as for representing Latvia at the Venice Art Biennale, Manifesta, São Paulo Art Biennial, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Rauma Biennale of Contemporary Art, and others. The LCCA maintains the only Latvian contemporary art archive.

Supported by

State Culture Capital Foundation in Latvia, Riga City Council, Foundation for Arts Initiative, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, FRAME Contemporary Art Finland, Mondriaan Fund, Embassy of Estonia in Latvia, Estonian Cultural Endowment, smart technology company Solavi

Exhibition artists

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

Exhibition organized and produced by

Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art

Exhibition curators

Ieva Astahovska, Margaret Tali