The exhibition @SEA turns to a discrepancy that sometimes arises in the perception when comparing the moods generated by marine landscapes in Latvian exhibition spaces with those coming to mind abroad.
While Latvian professional, traditional and popular culture has no shortage of literal depictions of the sea and various marine metaphors, there is a specific association that normally remains absent — the sea as the medium of colonisation and slave trade, the sea that, along with the brave and the boastful, the family and kolkhoz breadwinners, has swallowed several million of the innocent.
It could be argued that the modest colonial adventures of the 17th century Dukes of Courland on the Island of Tobago and in the estuary of the Gambia River are neither the concern nor the responsibility of the contemporary Latvian nation. These gentlemen did not draw their legitimacy from the will or myths of the majority of the population under their control. Furthermore — they had themselves arrived here as a result of colonial ambitions to exploit local natural and human resources.
Yet, since the abolition of serfdom and the national awakening, Latvian public and private popular culture has proved to be fairly receptive towards 'European' fantasies of our very own overseas colonies and people-as-objects, whom some to this very day would gladly keep at home as servants.
Othello can still be uncritically performed in blackface on the stages of respected Latvian theatre houses, while the musical play Tobago by the notable Latvian writer and cultural worker Māra Zālīte, which was first staged in 2001 and restored in 2017, is described on her website as “a story about big, beautiful dreams which sometimes, unfortunately, do not come true, but without which it is impossible to live”.[*]
The exhibition @SEA does not regret the failure of colonial ambitions. Instead, it dreams of stepping below the deck and looking at the horizon from below. Taking marine landscapes by Latvian artists — not unlike those that grace the walls of resort museums in the summer season — it yearns to appropriate a perspective which has undeservedly been left unexplored in Latvian culture.
The exhibition is curated by Valts Miķelsons.
[*]http://www.marazalite.lv/2017/12/17/dziesmu-spele-tobago/ (in Latvian)