Elusive anarchist icon 'Peter the Painter' returns to Talsi

On Saturday, October 16, an innovative exhibition will be opened at the Talsi Regional Museum, the name of which is "Nenotveramais" or "Elusive". The exhibition is created by the museum in cooperation with representatives of various fields - writers, musicians, actors and others, and it is dedicated to the legendary Latvian anarchist Jānis Žāklis, once the world's most wanted man.

Jānis Žāklis ​​was his real name, but during his active revolutionary work he was called by many other names - The Surveyor, Tālbergs, Pjotrs Pjatkovs, Peter the Painter and others.

It was as 'Peter the Painter' that he achieved a mysterious sort of prominence in the wake of the so-called 'Siege of Sidney Street' in London 110 years ago, which saw Latvian anarchists staging a last-ditch shoot-out against police, the British Army and even Winston Churchill.

Žāklis was regarded as a leader of the anarchist gang, who had attempted to finance their revolutionary work by staging a jewellery shop heist, and a huge manhunt was set in motion to capture him but at the age of 27 he disappeared and was never caught, though rumours about his ultimate fate continued to circulate for decades (the best account of his story is found in Philip Ruff's book A Towering Flame which is one of the main inspirations for the Talsi exhibition.

The Talsi exhibition is no ordinary museum exhibit. The musical design of the exhibition was created by composer Toms Auniņš and the museum staff were assisted by writer Andris Kalnozols, actor Edgars Samītis, Talsi local media and many other partners.

As a result, the exhibition will not be a historical look, but an adventure, chasing and investigation with the involvement of spectators, as described by the author of the exhibition idea, the director of the Talsi Regional Museum Uldis Jaunzems-Pētersons.

“This is a person with so many different aspects, qualities and abilities who has been evaluated in numerous different ways. He is basically a 21st century man who lived in the early 20th century... He has no place, he has not "tied" himself to any one place, he is a citizen of the world. But let's look at that time - there are only a relatively small number of people who can afford to move beyond the borders of their territory. But Žāklis ​​- here he is in Talsi, here he is in Bobruisk, here he is in Sabile, in Rīga, in Marseille, Paris, New York, London. And it's all happening in a relatively short period of time," says Uldis Jaunzems-Pētersons.

Despite, or perhaps because of his film-star good looks, Žāklis has always been a two-sided figure. One the one hand he can be called a terrorist, a criminal, even a Latvian bin Laden, but he also exudes a certain glamour, mystery and adventure, and became a popular anti-hero even in the folklore of London's East End.

One of the creators of the exhibition Andris Kalnozols emphasizes that in the story of the exhibition they tried to avoid different tags, keeping in mind both the context of the time and the fact that he was never tried for his alleged crimes. “I would say that he was an adventurer by nature, to whom the events of history gave a fantastic background on which to appear... this, in my opinion, was his driving force, the spirit of the adventurer. That's his starting point."

The creators of the exhibition neither condemn nor justify Jānis Žāklis, but give visitors the opportunity to become investigators and assess him for themselves.

The exhibition will consist of two parts - the first will be a warehouse of applied evidence, which will reflect the era through various objects. The second - the investigation cabinet. Uldis Jaunzems-Pētersons explains: "The Investigation Cabinet will provide this opportunity for those interested to take part in such an adventure or, as they say in a modern way, in such a quest , taking various steps."

As Andris Kalnozols notes: “The investigation will be in progress throughout the exhibition, and for this person it is the most appropriate format. Why is it so? There is the chance that the people who come to this exhibition can contribute to the development of the investigation. Because many locals from around Talsi do not even realize that there has been such a person, but it is very possible that somewhere, somewhere from their grandparents, they have heard stories that they will now be able to add to the investigation. The case is open, the case is not closed."

The exhibition "Nenotveramais" will be opened at the Talsi Regional Museum on Saturday, October 16, and will be on view for about a year. More information: https://www.talsumuzejs.lv/nenotveramais/.

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