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Kaunas 2022 to gather Litvaks, a journey home

Kaunas, The exhibition “That Which We Do Not Remember” Kaunas, The exhibition “That Which We Do Not Remember” Photo by Martynas Plepys

“For me, this forum is like a wrap-up of the entire Jewish memory programme of Kaunas – European Capital of Culture. It is the culmination of our many years of efforts to build bridges of cooperation and dialogue,” says Daiva Price, the initiator of the Litvak Culture Forum and the curator of the Kaunas 2022 programme Memory Office.

The event will welcome Litvaks returning to their ancestral land or arriving here for the first time on 29-30 September.

Before the First World War, about 2 million Litvaks – the name used by Jews of the region – lived in the former lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in the eight provinces of the Russian Empire. 2 million is 12% of the population. In Kaunas or Kowno, the centre of the gubernia, the Jewish population was as high as 35.32%, and today it’s just a few hundred people.

The Litvaks spread worldwide in the second part of the 19th – the beginning of the 20th century. They remained the smallest Jewish group after the Holocaust. Today, Litvaks live in Israel, the USA, South America, South Africa and other countries. Many of them have roots in Kaunas. As the European Capital of Culture 2022, the city is hosting the forum as the first event of such kind.

The two-day event in the Great Hall of Vytautas Magnus university will feature a rich cultural programme and discussions between renowned artists, scholars and representatives of the world of culture on what it means to be a Litvak and the search for a common Lithuanian and Jewish identity. It will ask whether art helps us to remember and whether perpetuating memory can help us to build a better future and promote openness and dialogue.

The Litvak Culture Forum is part of the Kaunas 2022 CityTelling Festival, which will run until November. According to the curator of the Memory Office programme, the leitmotif of this year’s festival – a journey home – means not only a more profound knowledge of the city, its history and oneself in it but also perhaps the first visit to the land of one’s ancestors. A land that was too painful to enter for years. This has happened to some world-renowned artists featured in Kaunas 2022, such as William Kentridge. His exhibition at the National M. K. Čiurlionis Museum of Art is busy throughout the year.

This year has also been an opportunity for artists such as Jenny Kagan, Philip Miller, Bruce Clark, Marilia Destot and others to come and return to their ancestral land with their art. Many of them will share their experiences in the programme of the Litvak Cultural Forum. They will be joined by stars from the academic world, members of the Advisory Board of the Litvak Cultural Forum – Prof. Antony Polonsky, Prof. Peter Salovey, Prof. Tsvia Walden and others.

The two-day Forum programme will be enriched by exhibitions, performances and concerts dedicated to Jewish memory. The calendar includes events such as the interactive exhibition “Out of Darkness” by the UK artist Jenny Kagan, the Threshold installation route reminiscent of the Mezuzah tradition by Jyll Bradley, a photographic exhibition of the interwar photographers Mausha Levi and Shimon Bayer, and the paintings of Simon Karczmar. On 29 September, a concert of Yiddish songs by Marija Krupoves will take place at Žalgirio Arena, dedicated to the Jewish memory of the city and the unique spirit of Kaunas.

On 30 September and 1 October, a special premiere which took a few years to prepare will be held. It is the Kaunas Cantata by the South African composer Philip Miller and Jenny Kagan. In the language of music, texts and images, it tells the complex story of historical upheavals, the Holocaust, deportations and personal traumas, and the traces they have left in the lives of generations and individuals. A spectacular labyrinth of music and images is created in collaboration with Lithuanian and foreign artists of various genres.

The premiere will be performed at Žalgirio Arena by more than 200 musicians, the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, professional and community choirs and ensembles. “The cantata invites us to open up difficult and traumatic themes, and it invites us to confront ourselves, to talk about difficult choices in the face of dramatic events. It is therefore particularly relevant in the context of today’s war,” says Ms Price.

The patron of the Litvak Cultural Forum is Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. Honorary Patrons are Prof. Liudas Mažylis and Faina Kukliansky, President of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The forum is partnered with Vytautas Magnus University and Kaunas Jewish Community.

The Kaunas 2022 Litvak Culture Forum programme is available here, and registration is now open. For the complete Kaunas 2022 programme, please visit www.kaunas2022.eu or the mobile app.

 

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