Festival of Exhibits of/by Estonians Abroad is in Full Swing in Estonia

July 15, 2019

The ESTO Festival, which took place in summer 2019 along with the Song Festival and upcoming 75th anniversary of the Great Escape, inspired the coordination of a festival of exhibits of/by Estonians abroad displayed throughout Estonia until the end of 2019. During the festival, exhibits by communities of Estonians abroad, Estonian memory institutions or collaborative exhibits between those on topics related to Estonians abroad are displayed.

Over the years, memory institutions located both in the homeland and abroad have created an impressive number of exhibits that cover the various periods and aspects of Estonian diaspora history. Some of the exhibits have been displayed in Estonia before, but a large portion of them are new to the Estonian audience. There are 16 different exhibits in the program from Estonia, Canada, Australia, and Sweden. The first round is over the summer and features the exhibits in 14 different locations in a total of six cities – Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu, Rakvere, Valga, and Võru. Topics include stories about fleeing the homeland, life in DP camps, as well as different activities in communities of Estonians abroad, hobbies, and accomplishments. In addition to those who fled during World War II and their descendants, exhibits feature earlier emigrations to Canada and Siberia. There are historical exhibits, photo exhibits, and expositions, which have grown out of oral history projects or handicraft hobbies of Estonian women.

The first exhibit, “Two Edges of a Lifespan” was opened in Tartu at the Estonian Literary Museum in May. It was first on display at VEMU in 2018 in association with the Republic of Estonia’s 100th birthday. Half of this double photo exhibit is dedicated to the older portion of Toronto Estonians: Toomas Volkmann’s portraits with the individuals’ memories pass on life experiences and wisdom to younger Estonians. The other half, Kristen Dobbin’s photos of the Jõekääru children’s summer camp, illustrates whether and how Estonians and Estonianness has changed in Canada. The exhibit will be on display at the Estonian Literary Museum until the end of August.

A number of exhibits were dedicated to Canadian Estonians. A couple of exhibits associated with VEMU are: “The Story of the Baltic University” (in collaboration with Helga Merits and on display at the University of Tartu Library until the end of August) and the exhibit “Food: A Treasury of Estonian Heritage. Businesses and Factories in Toronto” (in collaboration with the Estonian National Museum Central Library until October 4).

The collaborative exhibit between VEMU and the Estonian Theatre and Music Museum “Roman Toi 100” was on display until mid-July in Tartu at Noora. In mid-September, it will be going to St. John’s Church in Tallinn when the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church commemorates the anniversary of the Great Escape.

Kerly Ilves, a photographer from Estonia, dedicated two exhibits to Canadian Estonians. Her portrait exhibits “Canadian Estonians in Light and Shadows” and “Toronto Estonians Abroad and the Estonian National Museum” were on display during ESTO festival at the Telliskivi Creative City in Tallinn and at the Estonian National Museum (ENM) in Tartu. The exhibit “Kotkajärve Forest University – 50 Years Young” was also on display at Telliskivi.

The Alberta Estonian Cultural Heritage Society exhibit “Alberta Estonians from 1899 to Present” tells the story of early Estonian emigration and was on display until the end of July in Rakvere at the Lääne-Virumaa Central Library.

The story of the escape of Balts, including Baltic Germans, and their settlement in Canada as their new home is told in the exhibit “Sharing Our Stories. Baltic Diaspora at Home in Canada” which was opened on the final day of ESTO festival at the Patarei Prison in Tallinn. The opening reception was supported by the Canadian Embassy and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The exhibit creators Petra Grantham (Canadian Baltic Immigrant Aid Society) and Piret Noorhani (VEMU) gave speeches as well as the Canadian Ambassador Kevin Rex, and Sandra Vokk, host from the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory. As the Patarei Prison is a very popular tourist attraction, over 12,000 visitors had seen the exhibit by the beginning of August. In the fall, the exhibit will travel to Latvia and Lithuania.

Swedish Estonians were represented with two exhibits: a handicraft exhibit by the Estonian national art hobby group Triinu located in Stockholm “Let’s Decorate Estonia’s Chambers with the Tricolours” and the Swedish Estonian Society’s exhibit “Boat Refugees 1944. The Story of Four Boats” by Evelin Tamme, Mai Raud-Pähn and Taavo Kase. They were both on display at the National Archives in Tallinn on Maneeži Street. The National Archives’ own exhibit “Estonian- British Relations” was on display in the research hall at the National Archives in Rakvere.

The exhibit “Siberian Estonians” by the Estonian Literary Museum and the Estonian Academy of Arts tells the story of the eastern diaspora and was on display at the Lääne-Virumaa Central Library in Rakvere.

Some brand new exhibits were also opened during ESTO festival. The collaborative exhibit by the ENM and VEMU, “ESTO – The Keeper of Global Estonianness,” was opened with a lively ceremony and a large audience at the ENM as part of the official ESTO program. In 2020, this exhibit based on memories, photos, and archival materials will arrive at VEMU in Toronto. However, at the Estonian Sports and Olympics Museum the exhibit “Estonian Sports in Canada” was on display and will soon be opened at VEMU in September of this year.

In the fall, the exhibits will go for a second round, which means they will change locations to make sure as many people as possible see them. The logistics work for their installation is in progress.

Summer was busy in Estonia, so, unfortunately, I haven’t made it to Rakvere, Pärnu, Valga or Võru, where some of the festival exhibits were also on display. For this reason, I am all the more thankful to everyone who helped with finding locations for the exhibits, sending them and installing them: Tiiu Kravtsev and Birgit Kibal from the National Archives of Estonia, Merike Kiipus, Marin Laak, Vilve Asmer and Anu Korb from the Estonian Literary Museum, Riina Reinvelt, Kristjan Raba and Karin Kiisk from the Estonian National Museum, Kalle Voolaid from the Estonian Sports and Olympics Museum, the Forest University contact person in Tallinn Elle Palumäe, Kerly Ilves and many others. The festival marketing material was designed by Einike Leppik. The official organizers of the festival were the NGO Baltic Heritage Network, which works with the cultural heritage of Estonians and Balts abroad, and VEMU in collaboration with a number of Estonian memory institutions in Estonia and abroad. I would also like to thank those who have contributed financially: the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research / Compatriots Program, the Estonian Studies Centre/VEMU, the Canadian Embassy in Riga, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Information about the exhibits and where they are on display can be found on Facebook and the websites: www.balther.net and estofestival.com. Contact: piretnoorhani@gmail.com, t. +1 416 925 9405.

Piret Noorhani