Amber Flows Through Our Veins
The Lithuanian National Museum of Art dedicates this Friday, 22 September, to amber. At 4.45 p.m. on Friday, Palanga Amber Museum opens an exhibition Amber Runs in Our Veins – an ironic deconstruction of 20th-century-myth of the bond between amber and the national Lithuanian spirit. Visitors will see unexpected contemporary pieces of amber, and will be invited to consider the political aspect of amber and the use of it in the shaping of Lithuanian identity. The exhibition will conclude the scientific conference Amber in Modern Lithuania: Heritage and the Present organized by the Palanga Amber Museum and Palanga Resort Museum.
Amber encapsulating the Lithuanian character
‘Lithuanians tend to think of amber as ‘our own’ mineral. It represents Lithuania, and putting figuratively, it simply ‘runs in our veins’. I, however, have been for a while wondering when and why amber came to be identified with what is essentially Lithuanian,’ comments on the emergence of the exhibition the curator Dr Jurgita Ludavičienė, and explains further:
‘The journey of amber during the 20th century turned out very exciting: we find the role of literature in the shaping of the image of amber, on the other hand, the artefacts of amber represented Lithuania under different political systems, as fitting for diverse occasions. The variety of shapes the worked amber took ranges from too-familiar amber strings, trinkets, mosaics – nearly a fixture in every home – to pieces by professional artists created during Independence years, which are less familiar. This exhibition therefore is another attempt to redefine the significance of amber and its connotations.’
In the 20th – 21st centuries, the use of amber experienced numerous transformations. However the statistics, according to the curator, shows that for over a half of the Lithuanians amber retains pride of place among things representing Lithuania.
Three images of amber in 20th-century Lithuania
The exhibition Amber Runs in Our Veins is in three parts and each deal with a different image of amber. Part one is the beginning of the narrative in the early 20th century – the time of formation of a romantic perception. Part two introduces a turn of fate in the period of soviet occupation, when amber was put to service as raw material for souvenirs and mosaics. Part three reflects an ironical take on amber by the Lithuanian artists in independent Lithuania and its use to interpret recent political events.
The exhibition curator explains how the exhibition traces the changing ‘political mission’ of amber as political fortunes change:
‘The exhibition revisits the enthusiasm of the national romanticism, referencing the renowned poem by Maironis Jūratė and Kastytis and the devotion to duchess Birute. It recounts how the amber came to represent the young state of Lithuania. Turned into a Lithuanian-identity symbol between the two wars, amber was highjacked by the soviets as the ‘gold’ of the entire Soviet Union. Conceptualised as ‘the national treasure’ it circulated also in the soviet discourse of a ‘little homeland’. Amber was compared to Lithuania – a small fragile thing, guarded by ‘the big brother’, truly indeed.’
The amber trinkets and strings, the mosaics and amber figurines produced during this period flooded shopwindows all over the Soviet Union. ‘Amber seemed to fit any occasion, and for a reason Eduardas Mieželaitis in the 60s wrote of ‘amber running in our veins’. With time, the romantic image of ‘Lithuanians with amber eyes’ waned. By the end of the soviet area, the public came to associate amber mostly with those trite souvenirs and amber strings, which no one longer wanted to wear,’ says the curator.
Following the regaining of independence, the amber-Lithuanian identity bond found a new soil: it was started to interpret ironically. One can read events of the recent history in Lithuania and abroad into the amber artefacts on display. The running for presidency campaign by Rolandas Paksas, the victory of the Peasants and Greens at the election, the crisis of real estate, the competition of Miss Lithuania and the still-raging Russian war against Ukraine are examples.
The first part of the conference will take place in two venues: at Palanga Resort Museum before noon, and at Palanga Amber Museum in the afternoon.
Exhibition Amber Runs in Our Veins opens at 16.45 pm Friday 22 September at the Palanga Amber Museum of LNMA (Vytauto St 17).
Exhibition is on through 28 April 2024.
Exhibition curator Dr Jurgita Ludavičienė
Exhibition designer Vladas Balsys
Exhibition curator Regina Makauskienė
Project financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture
Information sponsor: LRT PLIUS
Sponsors: Amber World, Balzac, Purslai
17 Vytauto st, LT-00101, Palanga, Lithuania
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