Latvian Diaspora

Research into a cultural void.


History of immigration from Latvia 

(via Museum Victoria)

“…With the annexation of Latvia by the Soviet Union after World War II, large numbers of Latvians came to Australia as displaced persons under the International Refugee Organization’s re-settlement program.

Between 1947 and 1952, 19,700 Latvian refugees arrived in Australia. In Victoria, the Latvia-born population increased from 108 people in 1947 to 5,693 in 1954. At that time many were required to work in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs to fulfil their two-year contracts with the Australian Government under the terms of their migration.”

History of Latvia

(via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

World War II

Soviet occupation

“In the spring of 1941, the Soviet central government began planning the mass deportation of anti-Soviet elements from the occupied Baltic states. In preparation, General Ivan Serov, Deputy People’s Commissar of Public Security of the Soviet Union, signed the Serov Instructions, “Regarding the Procedure for Carrying out the Deportation of Anti-Soviet Elements from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.” During the night of 13–14 June 1941, 15,424 inhabitants of Latvia — including 1,771 Jews and 742 ethnic Russians — were deported to camps and special settlements, mostly in Siberia.[31] 35,000 people were deported in the first year of Soviet occupation (131,500 across the Baltics).”

Occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany (1941–1944)

“The Nazi invasion, launched a week later, cut short immediate plans to deport several hundred thousand more from the Baltics. Nazi troops occupied Riga on July 1, 1941. Immediately after the installment of German authority, a process of eliminating the Jewish and Gypsy population began, with many killings taking place in Rumbula. The killings were committed by the Einsatzgruppe A, the Wehrmacht and Marines (in Liepāja), as well as by Latvian collaborators, including the 500-1,500 members of the infamous Arajs Commando (which alone killed around 26,000 Jews) and the 2,000 or more Latvian members of the SD.[32][33] By the end of 1941 almost the entire Jewish population was killed or placed in the concentration camps. In addition, some 25,000 Jews were brought from Germany, Austria and the present-day Czech Republic, of whom around 20,000 were killed. The Holocaust claimed approximately 85,000 lives in Latvia,[32] the vast majority of whom were Jews.

A large number of Latvians resisted the German occupation.”

Soviet era, 1944-1990

Stalinist terror

“The first post-war years were marked by particularly dismal and sombre events in the fate of the Latvian nation. On March 25, 1949, 43,000 rural residents (“kulaks“) and Latvian patriots (“nationalists”) were deported to Siberia in a sweeping repressive Operation Priboi in all three Baltic States, which was carefully planned and approved in Moscow already on January 29, 1949. All together 120,000 Latvian inhabitants were imprisoned or deported to Soviet concentration camps (the Gulag). Some managed to escape arrest and joined the partisans.”

 “…In the post-war period, Latvia was forced to adopt Soviet farming methods and the economic infrastructure developed in the 1920s and 1930s was eradicated. Rural areas were forced into collectivisation. The massive influx of labourers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics started. By 1959 about 400,000 persons arrived from other Soviet republics and the ethnic Latvian population had fallen to 62%.[34] An extensive programme to impose bilingualism was initiated in Latvia, limiting the use of Latvian language in favor of Russian. All of the minority schools (JewishPolishBelarusianEstonianLithuanian) were closed down leaving only two languages of instructions in the schools- Latvian and Russian.[35] The Russian language were taught notably, as well as Russian literature, music and history of Soviet Union (actually- history of Russia).”

30.  see text of ultimatum; text in Latvian: I.Grava-Kreituse, I.Feldmanis, J.Goldmanis, A.Stranga. (1995). Latvijas okupācija un aneksija 1939-1940: Dokumenti un materiāli. (The Occupation and Annexation of Latvia: 1939-1940. Documents and Materials.). Preses nams. pp. 340–342.

31. Elmārs Pelkaus, ed. (2001). Aizvestie: 1941. gada 14. jūnijā (in Latvian, English, and Russian). Riga: Latvijas Valsts arhīvs; Nordik. ISBN 9984-675-55-6OCLC 52264782.

32.  Ezergailis, A. The Holocaust in Latvia, 1996

34. Bleiere, Daina; Ilgvars Butulis; Antonijs Zunda; Aivars Stranga; Inesis Feldmanis (2006). History of Latvia : the 20th centuryRigaJumava. p. 418. ISBN 9984-38-038-6OCLC 70240317.



(via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, “scattering, dispersion”)[1] is a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographic locale.


Latvian diaspora

(via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
“The Latvian diaspora consists of Latvian nationals who lived outside of Latvia during the Soviet occupation. As more than 200,000 Latvian citizens died during World War II and the Nazi occupation, thousands of Latvians fled the country to become the diaspora. When these Latvian displaced persons came to the United States and other western countries, they saw in the subsequent Soviet occupation of their homeland, an effort to eradicate Latvian culture.”
“…As far as the visual arts, in Latvia there are three main institutions responsible for maintaining information on artists of the Diaspora: the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Latvian Center for Contemporary Art and the Latvian Artist’s Union. Together, they have begun to complete the history of European art.
Latvian art historian Janis Siliņš, in 1990, described the movement to which Mark RothkoJānis KalmīteLucia PekaMārtiņš Krūmiņš and other Latvian-Americans belong as “those artists who amidst the changing trends of contemporary art, after thirty years in exile and emigration, as still basically close to and developing the traditions of their homeland art – of the ‘Latvian or Riga School



Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)

Duration – 2 September to 3 December 1995


Imants Tillers, Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Bernhard Blume, Carlo Carra, Giorgio de Chirico, Mike Kelley, Vytautas Landsbergis, Colin McCahon, Unto Pusa, Arnulf Rainer, Nicholas Roerich, Isidore Tillers


Marketta Seppälä


“This exhibition took the large-scale painting Diaspora (1992) by Imants Tillers as the starting point for an exploration of the complex processes in his work and its relationship to a broader art context. Tillers’ creative practice was revealed by presenting this work together with its sources in works by other artists.

Tillers borrows images from various sources, such as international art magazines and catalogues, merging images by artists he greatly admires, whilst also incorporating sources specific to his Latvian heritage. In doing so he mixes systems of meaning in works which have an often resistant, wilful character of rupture, dispersal, splicing and re-formation. Tillers forms entirely new contexts for the images he uses, showing that they have no essentialist meaning, and that all images are open to re-reading and re-contextualisation.

Tillers produced Diaspora (1992) in response to the unexpected collapse of communism in Latvia in 1991. The work was designed to be shown either as a complete whole, or separated into individual panels as a series of paintings, an exhibition. Rather than presenting a retrospective of his twenty-year career, Tillers’ recontextualised Diaspora for the MCA, assembling it into a single work of art and exhibiting it alongside relevant works from 1989-1995 which led the way to and evolved from Diaspora. The whole exhibition, therefore, was a powerful comment on the collapse of communism in Latvia and the resulting social change.”


Latvian Diaspora Artists:


Mark Rothko

(Via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
 Mark Rothko (/ˈrɒθk/), born Markus Yakovlevich Rotkovich (RussianМа́ркус Я́ковлевич Ротко́вичLatvianMarkuss Rotkovičs; September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970), was an American painter of Russian* Jewish descent. Although Rothko himself refused to adhere to any art movement, he is generally identified as an abstract expressionist.

* Mark Rothko was born in DvinskVitebsk Governorate, in the Russian Empire (today Daugavpils in Latvia).

Inspiration from mythology

“Fearing that modern American painting had reached a conceptual dead end, Rothko was intent upon exploring subjects other than urban and nature scenes. He sought subjects that would complement his growing interest with form, space, and color. The world crisis of war lent this search an immediacy because he insisted that the new subject matter have a social impact, yet be able to transcend the confines of current political symbols and values. In his essay “The Romantics Were Prompted,” published in 1949, Rothko argued that the “archaic artist … found it necessary to create a group of intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods and demigods” in much the same way that modern man found intermediaries in Fascism and the Communist Party. For Rothko, “without monsters and gods, art cannot enact a drama.”[28]

Rothko’s use of mythology as a commentary on current history was not novel. Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman read and discussed the works of Freud and Jung – in particular their theories concerning dreams and the archetypes of the collective unconscious – and they understood mythological symbols as images that operate in a space of human consciousness that transcends specific history and culture.[29] Rothko later said that his artistic approach was “reformed” by his study of the “dramatic themes of myth.”

Rothko’s “multiforms”

“The year 1946 saw the creation of Rothko’s transitional “multiform” paintings. The term “multiform” has been applied by art critics; this word was never used by Rothko himself, yet it is an accurate description of these paintings. Several of them, including No. 18 and Untitled (both 1948), are less transitional than fully realized. Rothko himself described these paintings as possessing a more organic structure and as self-contained units of human expression. For him, these blurred blocks of various colors, devoid of landscape or the human figure, let alone myth and symbol, possessed their own life force. They contained a “breath of life” he found lacking in most figurative painting of the era. They filled with possibility, whereas his experimentation with mythological symbolism had become a tired formula. The “multiforms” brought Rothko to a realization of his mature, signature style, the only style Rothko would never fully abandon.

In the middle of this crucial period of transition, Rothko had been impressed by Clyfford Still‘s abstract fields of color, which were influenced in part by the landscapes of Still’s native North Dakota.[42]

Philippe Halsman

(Via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Philippe Halsman (LatvianFilips Halsmans; 2 May 1906 – 25 June 1979) was an American portrait photographer. He was born in Riga in the part of the Russian Empire which later became Latvia, and died in New York City.”

“…Halsman commented, “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.”[5]The photographer developed a philosophy of jump photography, which he called jumpology.[6] He published Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book in 1959, which contained a tongue-in-cheek discussion of jumpology and 178 photographs of celebrity jumpers.

His 1961 book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas, discussed ways for photographers to produce unusual pieces of work by following six rules:

“the rule of the direct approach,”
“the rule of the unusual technique,”
“the rule of the added unusual feature,”
“the rule of the missing feature,”
“the rule of compounded features,”
“the rule of the literal or ideographic method.”


Dalí Atomicus (1948) by Halsman in an unretouched version, showing the devices which held up the various props and missing the painting in the frame on the easel.


IMANTS TILLERS one world many visions 

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
14 JULY – 16 October 2006

“The more we look at his paintings, the more pervasive Tillers’s own presence becomes, not only through his very particular method of painting but also through constant references to the artist’s role and his shifting identity.”
Nicholas Baume1


“…Tillers’ interest in cross-cultural issues would come to the fore in his Diaspora series in the following decade, these earlier works reveal that his preoccupation with the shifting nature of our personal and collective identities and displacements was apparent in the mid 1980s, as it had been from the beginning of the canvasboard system.”

Nicholas Baume, ‘Where truth is no stranger to fiction: Imants Tillers, Kangaroo blank 1988’, in Creating Australia, two hundred years of art: 1788–1988, exhibition catalogue, Adelaide: International Cultural Corporation of Australia Ltd and Art Gallery Board of South Australia, 1988, p.227.

Betty Churcher, in Imants Tillers: Venice Biennale 1986 Australia, exhibition catalogue, Adelaide: Art Gallery Board of South Australia and the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, Sydney, 1986, p.54.



Life Stories as Cultural Heritage: the Latvian Diaspora
Baiba Bela

Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, University of Latvia

“Life stories are a significant part of the cultural heritage of the Baltic diaspora. Life stories tell about historical events of the diaspora from a subjective, personal viewpoint. Furthermore – life stories are important not only as testimonies of history, but they themselves play an important role in the diaspora communities, particularly in the preservation and transmission of national identity.

The paper focuses on the collection and research of life stories of Latvia within the National Oral History (LNOH) project, with particular emphasis on the collections and research of Latvian diaspora narratives.”



A Latvian Weaving Collection: the Apinis Family


“The Apinis weaving collection contains over 150 objects made and used by Latvian migrants, Anna, Ervin and Anita Apinis, in the maintenance of traditional skills and cultural heritage associated with the artistic practice of weaving. It includes brought objects, examples of weaving, photographs and audio visual oral histories. It has been acquired by Museum Victoria in stages since the relationship with the family was first established as part of the immigration and artistic practice project in 1992.”

Author: Ms Michelle Stevenson


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