I half-heartedly expected to see the same pictures I had memorised out of my history textbooks, snapshots my Grandparents took, always comparing those historic documentary pictures lacking in feeling to the atmosphere my parents talked so much about. The astonishment so many Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians felt in looking at this exhibition was quite unexpected - out of all places, in Glasgow, in this Gothic Chapel, we see our history looking at us.
In August 23rd, 1989, at the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, two million Balts formed a live chain across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, protesting against the undeserved terror and the loss of independence within the Soviet Union. This inspiring event is well-known in the Baltics and the significance of it is often compared to that of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, not to mention its historical heritage, one is inclined to admire the atmosphere that prevailed leading to such sense of community.
Now, 22 years later, even though it mostly is meant to be left as a historically defined period, the photographs in the exhibition at Glasgow University evoke so many emotions that we can only wander at the grandiosity of such an event. An exhibition so overwhelmingly out of place considering the context it is emerging from: some Eastern Europeans with their now silly-looking glasses, some wearing traditional clothing, some just coming from field works, all with proud, angry and willing looks, raising their hands together and demanding something which now seems to have become the precondition of any day - the right to individuality and identity. Endless lines vanish in to the horizons of these pictures, faces emerging, skirts of pregnant women flattened against their bellies and fashionable square glasses framing all too serious or amused faces . Almost all black and white, only a few photos are there to mark history – and those are mounted in series of film scripts, thus separating them from the rest – in contrast with those which are there to convey feeling, those which take as their primary focus the expressions of the people. There is a strong feeling of texture, the 90s emerging from gothic walls, vividly captured looks and expressions, most impressively of all in the photographs taken by Gunars Janaitis. Captured posters scream chopped phrases evoking determinism to face consequences that are to come about: “Stop Genocide! We demand freedom!” and, finally, a collage made out of extracts of the day-after newspaper pages from all around the world, echoing and interpreting the event with admiration and too-often careful consideration.
This exhibition does not just remind us what happened, it actually conveys so much feeling and intimacy that one is inclined to wonder about his or her own life and generation. That is what I did whilst looking into these photographs which produce so much artistic value, and thinking about an art that brings back history into the present, maybe even all too vividly.
The Exhibition Runs until the 28th of Febraury