VMU and Kaunas to Host the Biggest Litvak Culture Forum in Lithuania

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Culture enthusiasts are welcome in Kaunas on 29-30 September. The first Litvak Culture Forum will take place here. The Forum, initiated by the Kaunas 2022 programme “Memory Office”, will be followed by a varied programme of art events in different parts of the city.

Academics, historians, museum professionals, education experts, representatives of the art world, and community members – the Forum will bring together dozens of speakers from various fields and countries. Many of the guests will be visiting the land of their ancestors for the first time – these experiences are crucial in an event that raises the question of what it means to be a Litvak. Other themes of the Forum include culture and art as a key to history and the perpetuation of memory as a way to build a better future and promote openness and dialogue.

Returning to the Roots

According to Daiva Price, curator of the Kaunas 2022 “Memory Office” programme, the Litvak Culture Forum is a summary of the programme’s efforts and projects started in 2017. “For five years we have been trying to remind people that Kaunas has always been a multiethnic city and that the Jewish or Litvak part of its history is an important part of its identity. Through various art projects, we have talked about the complex pages of the city’s history, World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust. So during the Forum, we will try to summarise what Litvak identity is and how art helps us to understand the history and remember,” intrigues the curator.

According to Ms Price, it is important that not only Lithuanian artists have been involved in this dialogue about the wounds of our history, but the project has also encouraged Litvak artists and scholars to return to the land of their ancestors. One of them is Prof. Peter Salovey, a descendant of the famous Soloveitchik family from Kaunas, a Litvak and President of Yale University:  “The Forum is, therefore, a great opportunity to revisit our common past, to meet and reflect on the future, to discuss what kind of future we want for this city, and how (or if) art can help us to understand the history better and learn from its mistakes.”

Photography exhibition “Sugrąžinti į Kauną“. Photo by Istorijų Festivalis

Artists and Academia

Lithuanian and international artists such as writer and art curator Paulina Pukytė, Lina Šlipavičiūtė-Černiauskienė (project “Walls That Remember”), Jyll Bradley (UK), who has brought back the mezuzahs to the streets of Kaunas, translator of Leah Goldberg’s book “A Flat for Rent” writer Daiva Čepauskaitė, artist Sigutė Chlebinskaitė, among many others.

Prof. Violeta Davoliūtė, a researcher of the politics of memory in East-Central Europe, will represent the academic community, as well as a large group of scholars from all over the world. Among them are Prof. Antony Polonsky, Professor Emeritus at Brandeis University, author of numerous monographs (PAR/UK), Prof. Peter Salovey, Professor of Social Psychology, President of Yale University, Honorary Doctor of the VMU (USA), Prof. Tsvia Walden, Psycholinguist (IL), and others.

Rich Cultural Programme

During the days of the Forum, special musical projects will be presented to the participants and guests at Žalgirio Arena. On 29 September, a concert of Yiddish songs by Marija Krupoves, dedicated to the Jewish memory of the city and the special spirit of Kaunas is scheduled. On 30 September and 1 October, the focus will be on the premier of Kaunas Cantata by composer Philip Miller and artist Jenny Kagan. The Cantata tells the complex story of historical upheaval, the Holocaust, deportations and personal trauma, and the traces it has left in the lives of generations and individuals in the language of music, texts and images. The premiere will be performed by over 200 musicians, the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra, choirs and various ensembles.

During the Litvak Culture Forum, a number of unexpected artistic events will take place in Kaunas, helping to broaden the context of the discussions and to extend the conversations. n born in Israel, “Bringing back to Kaunas” will be presented in the central building of VMU. On 28 th of September the photography exhibition by Michael Shubitz, a Lithuanian born in Israel, “Bringing back to Kaunas” will be presented in the central building of VMU, while, the Emanuel Levinas Centre at LSMU will host a concert-narrative entitled “The Music Shell”, during which an international group of artists will perform original music inspired by Jewish folk songs, ceremonial music and professional music.

On the 29th of September,  two musical events will be happening in the city: a performance by pianist Aleksandr Paley and clarinet master Karolis Kolakauskas and the concert “After Shagal“. The recently deceased composer Anatolijus Šenderovas said of this later work: “[It] is full of symbols – the clarinet recalls the former Jewish life in Europe, the percussion and the string quartet are like an allusion to the biblical world.”  The work will be performed by the Chordos String Quartet, clarinettist Algirdas Žiūra and percussionist Arkadijus Gotesmanas.

The programme of events will also include exhibitions that are already in place and have been attracting a great deal of interest from the city’s inhabitants and visitors, such as William Kentridge’s “That Which we do not Remember” and Jenny Kagan’s “Out of Darkness”.

Participants will also be invited to visit Kaunas Fortress IX, where artists Bruce Clarke (FR) and Tebby W. T. Ramasike (NL) will present the visual art and contemporary dance work “Ecce Homo:  Those who Stayed”.

The patron of the Lithuanian cultural forum is Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. Patrons of honour – prof. Liudas Mažylis and Faina Kukliansky, chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish community. Partners – Vytautas Magnus University and the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

More information about the events is available here.

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