Interrogating Imperial Legacies in Estonian and Latvian Art Museums

Dealing with colonial histories in Eastern Europe necessarily means unsettling hegemonic narratives. Zooming in on regional nuances complicates these narratives and requires analysing the local level relationships between different imperialisms that define the contours of social, political and cultural processes in the region. My presentation will map curatorial practices that engage with the histories of scientific racism in the Baltic region, researching these histories both within and in collaboration with museums. My particular focus will be on two exhibitions that bring to the fore colonial entanglements in the processes of regional history-writing. “Shared History” (2018) at the Art Museum Riga Bourse curated by Inga Lāce involved new works by artists Tanel Rander and Minna Henriksson as well as curatorial research into American Indonesian-expert of Latvian origin Claire Holt presented in a newly-developed video. “The Conqueror’s Eye: Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus” (2019) curated by Kadi Polli, Eha Komissarov and Linda Kaljundi at the Kumu museum showed the artist’s large-scale video installation previously representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennial also involved a critical investigation into the imperial engagements of the Baltic German and Imperial Russian pictorial legacies. The two exhibitions have brought along an important shift in understanding the impact of imperial histories in the region and beyond it by critically investigating the participation of local researchers in imperial forms of knowledge production. Furthermore, they have also started the process of interrogating their meanings for the local museums’ archives.

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