Articles by Huw David Jones
February 16 is independence day for the tiny Baltic state of Lithuania. To mark the occasion, Ffotogallery in Penarth opens a new exhibition of work by two Lithuanian photographers, Alexsandra Macijauskas (b. 1938) and Rimaldas Viksraitis (b. 1954).
During the 1960s, Macijauskas worked as a state photographer and later as a staff photographer for the Vakariniu Naujienu (Evening News) newspaper. Alongside his day job, he began his own independent study of Lithuanian rural life, operating outside of the state approved forms of artistic expression.
Macijauskas’s rural market scenes provide a surrealist take on daily rural life. Close-ups of pigs and poultry as they are passed between the hands of traders indicate a sense of pride in the prized produce farmers brought to market.
Rimaldas Viksraitis, a student of Macijauska’s, also concentrates on Lithuanian rural life. But unlike his former teacher, the scenes are unremittingly grim, emphasising the hopelessness of life under Soviet control, as well as the failed promises of the new Europe.
Empty bottles of vodka are strewn across kitchen tables. The rooms are dank and dirty; the furniture tatty and broken. There are few signs of even the most basic modern comforts. The only moments of light relief come from the farms animals, who pop up in all sorts of quirky situations.
Poverty and drunkenness have robbed the rural people of all dignity. The women are almost oblivious as their fat, fleshy bodies are groped by male companions.
It is an incredibly sad picture of life on the margins, though one which even after independence keeps repeating itself.
Borderliners: Alexsandras Macijauskas and Rimaldas Viksraitis is at Ffotogallery till March 23, 2013. Entry is free.