Wednesday, July 12, 2017

stitching identity :: kgb museum vilnius


we had three teenagers with us in lithuania, so we told them we had to visit a museum. after perusing a swedish brochure we found at our rented apartment, they chose the museum of genocide victims, mostly due to its other name - the KGB museum, owing to the fact that it is housed in the former KGB headquarters (look at me, capitalizing KGB...hmm, i'll have to ponder that) of the soviet state of lithuania.


it's a moodily-lit place, in keeping with its sober subject, and has a big focus on the lithuanian patriots/revolutionaries who resisted the soviet yoke, especially in the decade after stalin and hitler sealed their fate without consulting them in a secret agreement in the early days of the second world war. the green cells in the basement, where prisoners were held, interrogated and tortured and then, quite literally, taken out back and shot, were stark.


but i think it was most struck by the stitched objects on display. most were made by prisoners who had been exiled to camps in siberia. they obviously used scraps of fabric and thread that were at hand. stitching to hold onto their homes, loved ones and traditions. and the stitched items were made by both men and women, both having a need to cling to their home and memories.


the sign said that this little black striped pouch contained some lithuanian soil and that the prisoner had kept it with him throughout his confinement in a siberian hard labor camp. i have a jar of stones from south dakota, where i grew up, so i could relate to this. we have a need to hold onto something tangible of where we come from.


some of the stitched cloths were large and all were beautiful. each stitch holding a memory of home and comfort and family. such beauty coming out of such adversity. it's amazing.


it was also a way of keeping their religion and belief alive, as sometimes the cloths were used in religious rituals and at holidays, like easter, which they surely practiced at great peril.


there were other objects, made of materials at hand - birchbark containers and the like, but i found the stitching most fascinating. especially since it wasn't just women who were stitching, but men as well, in a human need to hold onto beauty and home.


there were many pouches, which surely held precious mementos, like the wrapped-up soil of home or a photo of loved ones or a locket. there were also sayings, carefully stitched in lithuanian, a way of physically holding onto language and culture. each stitch a small act of defiance against the oppression, each stitch a way to hold onto an identity that was being torn away.


and i wonder if my soft guns aren't a similar way of coping with the sense that my very foundation has been ripped away by that ridiculous clown that cheated and colluded his way into the white house, robbing me of any pride i may have had in being american. maybe not, but they are definitely an act of defiance and mocking of the gun culture that has so strongly taken hold. not as deep as the items in the genocide victims museum, but a small act against the regime nonetheless.

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for this Julie ... I would never have guessed that in a KGB museum so many beautiful and meaningful stitched objects would be found ...

julochka said...

@Elizabeth, I was surprised as well! pleasantly so!