Bold new exhibition assesses Kārlis Ulmanis' life, times and legacy

An eagerly-anticipated new historical exhibition opens to the public January 30, and its subject is one that always sparks fierce debate among Latvians: Kārlis Ulmanis.

In different periods, Ulmanis has earned drastically different reactions. A hero of Latvia's independence drive and one of the fathers of Latvian democracy, he later seized power in a coup and became a fully-fledged authoritarian, leading the country during a brief economic boom but ultimately into Latvia's occupation by the Soviet Union and his own unheralded death thousands of kilometers from his homeland.

Consequently some see him as hero, some see him as villain and many see him as an admixture of the two. Even now, the discussion about his role in shaping the history of Latvia is still relevant.

So who exactly was Kārlis Ulmanis and what was his importance? Some answers to these questions can now be found in the comprehensive new exhibition at the Kārlis Ulmanis memorial museum "Pikšas". It will be the largest exhibition dedicated to the controversial politician to date and opens on January 30.

Ilga Ķipsne, the manager of the "Pikšas" museum, introduced the exhibition to Latvian Radio's reporter.

The first thing that attracts attention is the overall visual image of the exhibition, created by the design office "H2E". The dominant colors are black and white, reflecting the way in which we like to think of Ulmanis, but red and white also plays with the black and white, creating a peculiar mirage-like effect.

There are many zigzag elements in the exhibition, which evoke associations both with the complex twists and turns of our history, and the contradictory attitude towards Ulmanis' personality.

When the viewer gets tired of the contradictions and zigzags of history at the exhibition, he or she can raise their eyes and look through the windows, which overlook the wide yard, creating a feeling of peace, tranquility and solidity.

The audience is also accompanied to the exhibition by a sonic background, in which the sounds accompanying Ulmanis's life resound - the bell of the Bērze church, the waters of the Bērze river, as well as the train with which he traveled a lot around Latvia and which took him to a foreign land, never to return.

Further from the homestead, the exposition leads through the further stops in Ulmanis' life - as evidenced by the names of the exposition's parts - Education, Becoming a politician, participation in the founding of the Republic of Latvia, Parliamentary Latvia, Coup, Leadership, Occupation.

There is a lot of information provided by the exhibition, but it refrains from giving a definitive verdict on Ulmanis, leaving it to the visitors to draw their own conclusions.

The project manager of the new exposition is Marta Leimane, and the exposition was created in close cooperation with the historian Kaspars Zellis.

Three essays, specially written for the exhibition by three outstanding professionals in their field - psychotherapist Inese Putniece, poet Inese Zandere and director Pēteris Krilovs - open up a wider spectrum of discussion about Kārlis Ulmanis.

The museum is located in Berze parish, and open on weekdays from 09:00 to 16:00. More details at the official website.

If you would like a brief introduction to Kārlis Ulmanis and his place in Latvian history, a good palce to start might be this short documentary from our archives.


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