Category

Kaunas

Kaunas is the city of backyards. All buildings on the grand streets of the old town have ways into the backyard with all kind of other buildings. Always with a lot of buzzing and plenty of parked cars. Almost a city in the city.

Today, we met on the street one of the curators of the Kaunas Gallery, Donatas Stankevicius. He was kind enough to bring us to one of the most famous backyards. In the Jewish part of Kaunas, just a few houses past the old synagoge (which is in real need of some renovation), he showed us the backyard also now as the Jewish open air gallery. Already in between the two world wars, people used art to brighten up their surroundings and the successive tenants of these houses have sustained this tradition.

Born as little child, our windows are clear and open. The older we get the more clouded they become. Growing up in your family, trying (often desperately) to be part of a social group at school, it all adds up to our perceptions and ego. At a certain stage in our life, we need the OK from our peers to feel happy and connected. Therefore often our behaviour is in accordance with what we think is socially required. So our window gets more and more clouded.

There is actually only one way to wipe our windows clean: from the outside!
We need to move outside of ourselves to look at our own behaviours, put ourselves in the shoes of the other to see and feel what the other experiences. Perhaps this is tonight (and at the other festive dates this month) the biggest gift we can give ourselves and all other people: clean windows of perception!

window

Today we experienced a flashback to the 60’s.
When entering the museum we were teleported back into our own childhood memories. A beautiful building which dedicated the ground floor and basement to art exhibitions of today’s. Firstly, an installation entitled “Black Hole” learned us to navigate in total darkness. A stark reminder of what blind people have to deal with everyday and for us almost feels claustrophobic as we are so used to seeing…

In the basement, we saw something spectacularly different.
An exhibition called “Nomadic Images” by contemporary Lithuanian artists. One artist hit both of us. So simple and yet so recognisable. A little stack of folded paintings. Just the linen. On a little table. Next to it a  sign; paintings which I’m not sure of and to shy to show to anyone…

It reminded us of the need to go out of your comfort zone to create something new.
It is the same we tried to install in the project with our the students. Look beyond what feels comfortable, look with fresh eyes to your surroundings, the people you meet and leave behind your own perceptions that cloud everything we see. It’s what we try to do each day in beautiful Kaunas, to create the images and words that will inspire other people to rekindle their own eyes. To refresh their sight with more freedom to see and to connect with another.

On the corner of the square at the old town of Kaunas is a statue throwing shadows on the wall. Stern looking, the arms crossed in a closed and defensive posture, he feels himself standing above the ordinary people. The guy walking in front of him feels this. He even moves as if he is small and unimportant. His head is facing the ground in front of him. He is no more than his own shadow.

Why is it that we ‘raised’ some people to a higher level?!
Even if they need to be remembered by all, aren’t they still human in each and every aspect of their being. We are all the same, all capable of doing extraordinary things. And for the most these go unnoticed, because they stay between two or more people.

Wouldn’t all our lives become more beautiful if we treated each and everyone equally, based on true and genuine empathy for the other. We would create understanding instead of disagreement, we would stand next to each other instead of becoming opposites and we would have the opportunity to make live better for all of us!

shadow

Two pillars are still in front of the house; sturdy reminders of the gates behind which thousands looked for an opportunity to escape the horrors of Kaunas in mid 1940. Two pillars on which numerous hands rested, waving to the Japanse consul to write the visa that would take them into safety.

Try to imagine the pressure upon the Japanese and Dutch consul. Japan had issued strict warnings against issuing visa and both consuls lived in Kaunas with their families. Each for themselves decided it was the right thing to do and the rest is history. It is impressive to realise the risks these two man took. Irrespective of their own safety. Of the safety of their family. As Yikuko Siguhara (the wife of Chiune) explained; “human life is the most precious thing”.

Gates

It also makes you wonder who today are the brave souls, who risk their lives for the safety of the refugees. Angela Merkel perhaps with her famous line: “Wir schaffen das”. Was her life in danger when she spoke these words? Actually, none come to mind as the risks faced in giving shelter to the refugees today are no comparison to the risks faced by the two consuls and their families in mid 1940. Perhaps that is the conclusion of this moment in time; we don’t face the same risks and therefore don’t act with the same righteousness as the two consuls in Kaunas. And that is saddening inhuman to realise… All the more inspiration to bring empathy back in our lives.

 

 

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