This exhibition follows the story of the development and exploration of identity in Lithuanian photography through time. Historical context – major events and politics of the state that affected not only artistic creation and its dissemination, but also the dynamic world of individuals – is extremely important here. The exhibition does not avoid contradictions and inconsistencies, but aims only to widen the polylogue between the works and allow unexpected but eloquent connections to arise. The exhibition consists of three parts that follow both chronological and thematic guidelines: ‘Identity as Reality’, ‘Identity as an Object’ and ‘Identity as Idea’.
The first part represents the beginning of the formation of Lithuanian photography from the 1950s onwards. In 1944, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. The occupying power actively pursued sovietisation policies and the restriction of traditions, faith, and creative freedom. It was during this extremely difficult period of occupation which lasted until 1990 that Lithuanian photography developed. Turning away from the gloomy, impoverished everyday life of the Soviet era, photographers created visual metaphors expressing humanistic ideas. Photography was therefore both a tool to support ideology and a means of combating it, and artists were constantly maneuvering between the restrictions of censorship and the need for self-expression.
The second part of the exhibition explores the transformation of Lithuanian history and culture. As mass protests and a movement for political transformation took off, the idea of Lithuania as an independent state was publicly expressed for the first time since the occupation began. The generation of photographers who emerged in the Lithuanian art scene at the dawn of the 1980s witnessed this transformation while highlighting the fatigue and meaninglessness in the Soviet era through ordinary everyday objects. At the same time, different and more boldly creative ideas began to permeate photography, unfolding through the exploration of new themes and innovative photographic language.
Works created in the twenty-first century are exhibited in the third part. Substantially different political circumstances and the increasing possibilities for travel and study abroad have unlocked creative freedom and diversity. The works of artists who emerged during this period are almost impossible to summarise – contemporary Lithuanian photography is multidirectional and multifaceted. Artists research society from different angles in order to emphasise the problematic nature of identity and “shake” the foundation of our worldviews. They encourage viewers to think about unusual or even awkward topics, question established attitudes, and find answers to the questions explored in their works.
The exhibition presents works from the rich and continuously growing collection of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art, supplemented by works borrowed from artists. The exhibition, although chronologically structured, aims not so much to systematically recreate the history of the country’s photography, but to convey the diversity of voices and the medium which was (and still is) used by artists who contributed to the formation of the perception of identity (national, communal, individual) and also offered future trajectories for identity.