Upiš Memorial Museum: In the debate, the monuments of the writers to be dismantled are called “icons of the empire”

By RockedBuzz 11 Min Read

The Andrejas Upīš Memorial Museum does not support the dismantling of the Latvian writer’s monument, so the museum will address an open letter to Riga Mayor Mārtiņš Staķs and the members of the Riga City Council.

Monument to the writer Andrejas Upītis in Kronvalda Park
Monument to the writer Andrejas Upītis in Kronvalda Park Photo: Evija Trifanova/LETA

The Andrejas Upīš Memorial Museum does not support the dismantling of the Latvian writer’s monument, so the museum will address an open letter to Riga Mayor Mārtiņš Staķs and the members of the Riga City Council.

In the view of the museum, the proposal initiated by the Public Memory Center and supported by the Riga Monuments Council to dismantle the sculptures of several writers, including Upīš, in the Riga city environment contains several problems and contradictions.

The authors of the letter note that during the debate, the sculptural objects to be dismantled were called “icons of the empire”.

The museum emphasizes that Upīš’s contribution to Latvian cultural history is broader. The writer began his literary career in the first years of the 20th century, and already around 1910, 1914 he had become a relatively prominent author in Latvian literature.

During the years of the Republic of Latvia, Upīts was not only the author of many original works, but in 1921 he created the history of Latvian writing, in collaboration with the literary scholar Rūdolf Egli from 1930 to 1934 – also the history of world writing. The Latvian writer is the author of several pages in the Latvian Conversation Dictionary.

For his achievements in dramaturgy, the writer won the Culture Fund prize in 1927. Until the beginning of the Soviet occupation in 1940, Upīts wrote a large part of the most important works, which are still important in Latvian culture. In general, Upīts can be regarded as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century in the history of Latvian literature.

According to the museum, Upītis can objectively be blamed for the fact that in July 1940, together with the other members of the People’s Saeima delegation, he went to Moscow to ask for Latvia’s admission to the USSR, thus further strengthening the Soviet occupation regime in the country.

The authors of the letter note that everything that Upīts has done in journalism and literary history from the beginning of the 40s of last year until his death in 1970 can be objectively criticized – especially the targeting of Latvians in exile, which can basically be considered moral and literary violence .

“No documentary evidence can be found in the state archives that Upīts was directly responsible for political repressions – neither in 1919, when the writer was in a political position for less than five months, nor after 1940. Even in 1919, while performing the duties of the head of the Art Department of the Soviet Latvian Commissariat of Education , Upiš’s politics is focused on culture and not on other issues that would affect the repression of his contemporaries, and this fact is often questioned in the public space nowadays without any documentary justification,” explains the museum.

The authors of the letter emphasize that Upīts has always been a defender of the Latvian language – the writer’s literary works confirm his wide and versatile vocabulary, which also has cultural and historical value.

Twice in the life of Upīš, the writer had the opportunity to stay to work and live in Soviet Russia – both in 1919 and after 1940 – but both times the writer decided to return to his homeland and continue to deal directly with Latvian literature.

Also, literary works created during the Soviet occupation, such as the novel “Zaļa zeme”, mark the evidence of the cultural history of their region – it is the fixation, description and reflection of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the writer’s native region.

The museum also emphasizes that several literary works of Upiš are still included in the school curriculum. The story “Boys of the Moss Village” is learned in the Latvian language and literature classes of the 6th to 7th grades, the novel “Gold” is offered to high school classes as a vivid example of naturalistic literature, while in educational institutions with a humanitarian orientation, students also read the writer’s works from the 20s and 30s of the last century. short stories and historical tragedies. Even in the biggest theaters of Latvia after regaining national independence, Upīš’s work has been updated periodically in various new interpretations.

The museum rhetorically asks whether the talk about the dismantling of the Upiš monument could be related to art censorship. According to the authors of the letter, there is no constructive polemic – objective and scientifically based historical research has been replaced by political interpretations.

“You can give up the evidence of the Soviet era, but in that case it means the same practice of rewriting history that was practiced under the conditions of occupation. A black and white division of the world existed in the canon of socialist realism, in which initially the antagonism could be between “bad” and “good”, but then, when all the “bad” was eradicated, the conflict could only arise between the “good” and the “even better”. Have we again achieved such a world model in the 21st century? What is more important for our nation: to appreciate the writer’s positive contribution and artistic power or – on the contrary – simplifying, to emphasize the negative and reprehensible, the ideologically unacceptable for us,” its authors emphasize in the letter.

The museum also mentions that the author of the Upīš sculpture is the former head of the Sculpture Department of the Latvian Academy of Arts, artist Alberts Terpilovskis. It was under his leadership that Latvian plastic art traditions and monumentality, diversity and understanding of materials were perfected in all sculptural genres and forms of expression. Graduates of Terpilovska create the strongest and most interesting authors whose works can be seen all over Latvia.

The museum points out that the position of a professor, pedagogue, public worker resulted from the sculptor’s own artistic interests. Already during the teaching process, Terpilovskis encouraged the students to create portraits of 20th-century Latvian cultural workers, thus preserving the evidence of our history and the valuable memory of writers, artists, and actors. In this way, approximately one hundred works were created, which were placed free of charge in regional schools and cultural centers. This achievement has no equivalent in Latvian cultural history.

Terpilovski’s portraits of cultural figures will remain in Latvian art. This sculptural line of content and form of the artist also belongs to the monumental work – the monument to Upītis, which was created in cooperation with the architect Gunārs Asari.

The museum emphasizes that the writer’s attitude, achievements in Latvian literature and character contradictions, portrait similarity can be easily read in the work. The ensemble itself can be viewed as a whole with the neighboring houses, the location, the lawn and with its generalized, geometrized forms, rhythmicity is an artistic testimony of its era.

Likewise, the contradictions of the era can also be read in the sculptural image. The sculpture of Upiš created by Terpilovski embodies the dualism hidden in the writer – on the one hand, it reproduces the typical characteristics of the personality of the socialist era, on the other hand, it shows the image of Upiš as a heavy personality and a persistent literary critic, and this is why this sculptural object can be evaluated as a unique testimony of the era .

“Discussions and debatable monuments encourage critical thinking, which is required by modern society and the understanding of democracy, a school of learning. Testimonies in the urban environment not only remind us of this lesson, but also increase public education and responsibility for our history, culture in general,” the museum says, noting that they , who have signed the open letter, call on the idea of ​​Riga not to support the proposal of the Public Memory Center and the Riga Monuments Council to dismantle the Upīš monument.

The open letter was signed by 29 persons, among them Arnis Koroševskis, senior specialist of the Upīš Memorial Museum, literary scholar, Ilze Puķe, head of the Upīš Memorial Museum, Rita Meinerte, director of the Association of Memorial Museums, Inese Kaire, former head of the Upīš Memorial Museum, Jānis Garjāns, former specialist of the Upīš Memorial Museum, Latvia Chairman of the Union of Writers, writer and publicist Arno Jundze, art historian, head of the Information Center of the Latvian Academy of Arts Ingrīda Burāne and others.

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