This exhibition is an introduction to fifty Vilniusites and their personal stories from different periods in the history of the city of Vilnius. We invite you to meet men, women, and children who lived in the city at different times – from politicians and soldiers, intellectuals and artists, to clergymen and even saints, businesspeople and philanthropists, ordinary artisans and workers, as well eccentrics who lived on the margins of society. Some of them are well-known historical figures, others are completely obscure; some are famous for their contributions to Vilnius and Lithuania, others have come to be appreciated differently by society today. It is important to understand that this multifaceted city was created and its history written by people of different eras and viewpoints – all of whom loved the city in their own way. If we sincerely wish to listen to their stories and understand, as best we can, the multivoiced chorus that resounded in this city for over 700 years, we do not have the right to choose only those stories we prefer. Some individuals presented in this exhibition were born and lived their entire lives in Vilnius, others arrived and adapted, while still others resided here only briefly, and yet managed to leave their mark on the city’s history. This exhibition sheds light on the role of newcomers – foreigners as well as settlers from other places in Lithuania – in the life of the city. Historical events prevented the emergence of a single, enduring community of Vilniusites, stretching from one generation to the next. Indeed, throughout every period, newcomers contributed immensely to the city’s development. They were and remain a part of Vilnius. We were guided by our conviction that becoming a creator of a city or even just a citizen of it does not depend on the time lived there, but on one’s relationship with the city itself. These life stories flowed through Vilnius over 700 years, interweaving into one single, unbroken thread, held together by family, neighbours, friends, colleagues, ideas, and other relationships.
This exhibition is divided into five sections: Contemporary Vilnius; Vilnius under Soviet Occupation; Vilnius within Poland; Vilnius in the Grip of the Russian Empire; and Vilnius as Capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The 700-year span of the exhibition is symbolically framed by the stories of a seven-year-old boy named Vilnius, and Berthold, a Franciscan monk who served as a scribe to Grand Duke Gediminas. Each of us could easily assemble our own list of top fifty Vilniusites – there are thousands, even millions of possible combinations, after all. The characters in this exhibition have been selected to represent the composition of Vilnius’ population at each historical period, to reflect the most prominent historical events that led to changes in the size and composition of that population, and that best serve to acquaint visitors with the extremely unique exhibits that tell the story of Vilnius. The narratives spoken by each character reveal their relationships with Vilnius and their contributions to the life of the city. These texts have been created based on actual historical facts, often enriched by excerpts from surviving authentic personal documents.
Exhibition “I Am a Vilniusite” opens to the public on 15 December at the House of Histories (T. Kosciuškos g. 3) and will run through 27 August 2023.