by Eglė Samoškaitė
Translation of Ms. Samoškaitė’s Lithiuanian article that appeared in today’s Delfi.lt.
Representatives from New Left organization were angered by an exhibit of envelope art by graphic artist Antanas Šakalys scheduled to go on display at Vilnius University library because the artist earlier had used antisemitic and homophobic illustrations on envelopes.
Dovid Katz, who was born in America but lives in Lithuania, published on his website Defendinghistory.com several of Šakalys’s envelopes which human rights experts characterized as antisemitic.
This raised the ire of New Left members, who began plans on Facebook for a protest against this sort of exhibit at state-financed Vilnius University. They believe the university is not the place for an exhibit of Šakalys’s work.
When Delfi visited the exhibit there weren’t any antisemitic envelopes on display. Irena Krivienė, the director of the library, told Delfi the university only exhibited acceptable works by Šakalys and said the exhibit hadn’t been changed.
Nonetheless, after looking into the circumstances of the case of the Vilnius University exhibit, it turned out that the announcement of the exhibit on the university’s webpage had vanished, and the artist himself would only tell Delfi that he received a call from the university saying the opening of the exhibit had been postponed, although the exhibit itself is already in place.
“They told me the opening of the exhibit is postponed and I don’t want to talk to anyone any further,” Šakalys said.
Envelopes with Antisemitic Decorations Published?
Defendinghistory.com reported that the exhibit of souvenir envelopes by graphic artist Šakalys would be opened at the Central Library of Vilnius University on 27 September. The headline said Vilnius University is planning to host an antisemitic and homophobic exhibit on its premises, with several images of the decorated envelopes provided.
One of them portrays Jewish Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky, under whose image there stands insribed: “Let’s live like brothers, but pay like Jews.” The text on the envelope goes on to explain this saying does not fit Krinsky because “the Menachem House which he administers” is in debt to the Lithuanian social security fund to the tune of one million litas.”
Then there is an envelope with a glyph with a void symbol forbidding homosexual intercourse, and an envelope with a drawing of [Holocaust war criminal] Aleksandras Lileikis with an explanation that this man was terrorized by Zionist racists. Another shows Yitzhak Arad with a line in large text next to it: “An ‘Expert’ with Bloody Hands.” The text goes on to say he is a former NKVD red partisan executioner who completely terrorized innocent Lithuanian peasants.
Other envelopes published on the site show the March 11th march of “Lithuanian nationalist patriotic youth,” and a Jewish caricature characteristic of the inter-war period, under which information is provided on the mass deportations of Lithuanians on 14 June 1941, initiated by the Soviets.
Did an Unnamed Vilnius University Employee Send Out Examples of the Envelopes?
Website editor D. Katz told Delfi that the above-described envelopes published at Defendinghistory.com were sent in by by an employee of Vilnius University whom he declined to identify.
“The employee, the person who works at Vilnius University, didn’t want his name used anywhere, but he saw the pictures at Vilnius University and sent them to us a few days ago. Then we published them, although, of course, we checked whether this artist actually exists and whether he had done such works. In short, we learned that these sorts of envelopes were sold at the main post office down the road for years,” Katz said.
“On Monday rumors began to circulate that someone at Vilnius University decided to get rid of the offensive envelopes and display neutral ones,” he added, explaining that he learned of these rumors “from friends at the university.”
Library Director: We Didn’t Replace Exhibit Items
When a Delfi photographer visited the exhibit at Vilnius University, there were no envelopes with antisemitic or homophobic illustrations. Vilnius University Central Library director Irena Krivienė said the exhibit items were selected from among those donated to the university by the artist.
“Our exhibit displays documents that have nothing in common with the things you are saying. The exhibit really wasn’t changed, what was put on display is what is there,” she said.
“What is on display in our library is from the collection collected in the graphic arts cabinet of Vilnius University Library for perhaps thirty years now. So this is all from our collection and we have no such documents. We have everything Šakalys donated to the library. The documents he donated, transferred to the library are connected with the history of Vilnius University, historical personages at the university, I mean the old professors, images of Vilnius University, pictures of the halls, courtyards, pictures of Vilnius,” the director said.
She said she learned of the envelopes published on Defendinghistory.com Tuesday morning, and that a link to the site was sent to her by one of the library staff.
“We don’t even have any documents of the type you are talking about. Later I looked at those envelopes, and they really are inappropriate. But we don’t have those kinds, and I just now discovered that Šakalys also does those other kinds,” Krivienė said.
She said there are two exhibits currently running of Šakalys’s work: one at Vilnius University and the other at the Central Post Office [in Vilnius]. The library director said she even sent some personnel to the post office exhibit, but they found no such envelopes there either.
Henrikas Mickevičius: There’s No Art There, Just Stereotypes
When Delfi began checking into the Šakalys envelope exhibit at Vilnius University, however, the announcement of the upcoming opening ceremony for the exhibit vanished from the university’s webpage, and the artist himself would only say they called him and said the opening had been called off.
Henrikas Mickevičius, director of the Lithuanian Human Rights Watch Institute, told Delfi he, too, had noticed the disappearance of the Vilnius University webpage describing the life and work of Šakalys.
“I just had time to read it over quickly and to send it on to colleagues, and then it disappeared very quickly,” he told Delfi.
He said he could only comment upon the envelopes presented at Defendinghistory.com, in which he said he could detect no art.
“There is no art there, neither are there any values. It is distasteful in terms of aesthetics and content. There is an obvious reliance upon primitive stereotypes; these are very disgusting things, certainly. I’m not going to tone it down, and I will say these are probably the visual products of some marasmic or mentally exhausted individual [a person at the end of their tether of rationality, so to speak—trans],” Mickevičius said.
The human rights expert said he would be surprised if Vilnius University goes ahead with the exhibit of works by an artist who produces such decorative envelopes.