Two Exhibitions Dedicated to Lithuanian Émigré Dissidents

October 21, 2022

For the first time, the life and work of the theatre director, laureate of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Arts and dissident Jonas Jurašas were presented in such detail at the exhibition organised by the National Library of Lithuania. The exhibition “Jonas Jurašas. The Price of Being” presented over fifty Jurašas’s plays staged during the Soviet era in Lithuania and Russia, on the stages of the Western world (USA, Canada, Germany, Belgium and Japan), and in Lithuania after the restoration of independence revealing the personality of the creator and the importance of his works.

The exhibition has already been exhibited at the National Kaunas Drama Theatre, where Jurašas has received great recognition and experienced the love of the Lithuanian people and faced tragic moments.

Jurašas’s work in Vilnius theatres has a special place. However, the performance “Barbora Radvilaitė” is the most famous of all. This April marked the fiftieth anniversary of its legendary performance, which determined the director’s further life. On September 9, 1972, the tattered and censored “Barbara Radvilaitė” premiere took place without the director’s presence, without mentioning his name. Today, this play is not only a symbol of Jurašas’s refusal to collaborate with the Soviet censorship, his resistance to the system, and his struggle for a free Lithuania; it is also a work that the country’s theatre critics have acknowledged as the most outstanding Lithuanian performance of the 20th century.

The exhibition was prepared by curator Liucija Armonaitė, exhibition architects Ona Vėliūtė, Saulius Valius, artists Ona Vėliūtė and Jūratė Šatūnė.

The exhibition “The Sign of Tomas Venclova” exhibited at the National Library of Lithuania from September 13 to November 6, invited to take a fresh look at Tomas Venclova (b. 1937), a well-known poet, translator, literary researcher, professor, dissident and public figure.

The exhibition opened up different stages of Venclova’s life, spheres of activity, hobbies, friendships, and works. Looking back to the very origins of poet’s rich and meaningful life, the exhibition presented poems and a manuscript written by Venclova in his childhood, photographs testifying to his close relationship with the world of books from his early days, and his first books.

The exhibition included Venclova’s collection of poems Kalbos ženklas [The Sign of Language, 1972] published fifty years ago, which was the poet’s remarkable public debut and left a deep imprint on Lithuanian poetry of that time. This book also inspired the title of the exhibition. Other books of Venclova’s poetry and their translations into various languages were also on display.

The exhibition presented Venclova as one of the first propagators of semiotic ideas in Lithuania, who discovered in semiotics the possibility of protecting free thought from the dull Soviet ideology. The exhibits also reminded us that after his arrival in the USA, Venclova, as a representative of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, communicated with Lithuanian diaspora figures and other Soviet dissidents, participated in meetings, spoke out about human rights violations, strengthened existing and created new links with democratic movements in the West.

The exhibition also offered a glimpse of Venclova’s passion for travel as a freedom seeker and citizen of the world. His travels have ranged from Ethiopia, India and China to Australia and Ecuador.

The poet and the National Library of Lithuania have a long-standing friendship, which began at the dawn of Lithuania’s independence. From the early 1990s, Venclova systematically began sending his published works to the Library.