'Vyte' or other known as Shaltmira's Coat of Arms is by aggreement allowed to use for the inniciators and organizators of National Emancipation Day in Lithuania. By their initiative the flag with 'Vyte' was made and hang in the heart of the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, Lukiškių alėja.
‘A hundred names of females, who helped to establish Lithuania’s State was read, because they are rarely ever remembered. They were book smugglers, writers, literary scholars, doctors of science, Jewish people saviors, scientists and so on. During the event, the 17th of February Act was declared, which was inviting to create a democratic state, in which all groups of people would have the equal opportunity to participate in the state's life.’ is written in Lithuanian page Manoteises.lt ( ‘My rights dot com’).
The location of the event was the balcony of the hotel 'Narutis', located in the old town, because the original pace where the Act of restauration of Independence was signed, refused to host the event.
The Act of Independence of Lithuania was sign by twenty signatories, none of them were females. That's what all this initiative of Act of February's 17th is about and what it originally is referring to. It is a conceptual art project and together a social initiative, provoking to rethink the history. Lithuanian female artist Shaltmira already made a version of Lithuania's symbol, Coat of Art, with female on the horse instead of a male and Lithuania's president is female, so it looks like there are some positive changes happening during the 100 years. More here. And here.
In the article written in 2017 and published on manoteises.lt was being said, that a group of feminists is suggesting to declare the 17th of February to be the Nacional Emancipation day. This proposal, is being written further, might sound weird only for those, who are not familiar with the history of Lithuania. The month of February in 1918 is famous not only because of The Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania, but also as the first protest in the country. The website was talking with the initiative organizators, art critic Laima Kreivyte, politologist Dovilės Jakniūnaitė and the equal rights expert Margaritos Jankauskaitė, why it is worth to remember February’s 17th and how Lithuania could benefit from re-actualization of this day.
So what is the importance of February's 17th in historical context?
Laima Kreivytė is saying that the signing of the The Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania was all male panel classics. It was well known, that there were no females between all twenty signatories, therefore the contribution of females towards the restoration of the independence is underestimated. But to be true it all happened not because of passivity of females or disconnection from the public life. The leaders of the national rebirth didn’t follow the laws, that declared the equal rights for both males and females in participation in political activities, stated in the contracts of The Great Vilnius Court (Didžiojo Vilniaus Seimo (1905 m.) and the Conference of Petrapilis (Petrapilio konferencijos (1917 m.). Nevertheless the big part of people understood what is right differently, therefore in 1918 m., February 17th in Kaunas, second largest town of Lithuania, happened the protest, during which it was asked to involve the females into the team of Lithuanian Council (Lietuvos Taryba). Soon after for the Council was given the petition, which supported this demand, and it was signed by 20 000 lithuanians.
There were lots of variations during the years of the Coat of Arms of Lithuania. The coat of arms of Lithuania, consisting of an armour-clad knight on horseback holding a sword and shield, is also known as Vytis (pronounced [viːtɪs]. It is one of very few containing symbolism adopted from ducal portrait seals rather than from coats of arms of dynasties, which is the case for most European countries. More here and here (in english).
The knight on horseback without a specific name was mentioned in the Tobolsk Chronicle as a symbol of Narimantas. The charging knight is depicted on the seal of Grand Duke of Lithuania, Algirdas, dated 1366. The earliest coins featuring the knight come also from the last quarter of the 14th century; the other side of these coins depicts Columns of Gediminas. The emblem was handed down through the generations, from Algirdas to his son, Grand Duke Jogaila, then to Jogaila's cousin Grand Duke Vytautas and others. In the 14th century, the knight was featured on a heraldic shield, first on Jogaila's seal in 1386 or 1387, and also on the seal of Vytautas in 1401. At the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, the major victory of the united Polish–Lithuanian army against the Teutonic Order, thirty Lithuanian regiments out of the total forty were flying the "charging knight" banner.
At first, the charging knight was depicted riding to left or right, and holding a lance instead of the sword. Two seals of Lengvenis of 1385 and of 1388 exhibit this change. The lance was more often exhibited on the seals of Skirgaila and Kaributas. By the first half of the 15th century, the rider is always shown riding to the left (as seen by the viewer) with a sword in his raised hand and a shield in the left hand (if he rode to the right, the shield would be concealed by the rider). During the 15th century, the colors of the seal became uniform: a white (silver) charging knight holding a sword and a shield on a red field.
Use as a state symbol
By the 15th century, the heraldic knight became representative of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and of its central part, the Duchy of Vilnius. Its name Pogonia is first recorded in the Statutes of Lithuania of 1588.
In the 16th century, the knight's shield was depicted as blue with a gold double cross, constructed in such a way that all six ends are equal in length. The double cross was attributed to Jogaila, who was said to have adopted it after his baptism as Ladislaus and marriage with Hungarian princess and King of Poland Hedvig Angevin in 1386. It is derived from the Hungarian cross, the assumed coat of arms of Saint Ladislaus, King of Hungary, which is in turn a derivative of the Patriarchal cross.
The Vytis was the state emblem of the Republic of Lithuania until 1940, when the Republic was annexed by the Soviet Union and all national insignia were outlawed. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Vytis, together with the Columns of Gediminas and the national flag, became symbols of the independence movement in Lithuania. In 1988, the Vytis was legalized. On March 11, 1990 Lithuania declared its independence and restored all of its pre-war national symbols, including the historical coat of arms. On March 20, 1990 the Supreme Council of Lithuania approved the description of the State's coat of arms and determined the principal regulations for its use. The design was based on Juozas Zikaras' design that was used on all litas coins in the interwar period. This was to demonstrate that Lithuania was continuing the traditions of the State that existed between 1918–1940. On September 4, 1991, a new design by Arvydas Každailis was approved based on recommendations of a special heraldic committee. It abandoned romantic interwar traditions and went back to the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It re-established the original colors. However, early coins of centas still bore the old Zikaras' design until 2015.
National Emancipation Day
'I've been personally asked if my illustration, the version of Coat of Arms of Lithuania, that I drew, could be used as a symbol of National Emancipation Day of Lithuania. I said 'Yes' immediately. I didn't ask anything in return, I felt honored to be able to contribute to this meaningful social and cultural initiative, which helps to form the democratic country's face.' - Shaltmira
In the picture we see the art critics, writers and culture workers, human right activist having a discussion as a part of serie of events of National Day of Emancipation in 2016. Photographer Neringa Rekašiūtė.
The sculpture 'MeToo', created by. Eglės Grėbliauskaitė, was presented at the same event in 2017. The flag with Shaltmira's 'Vytė' travelled together to this event, which took place outside Vilnius Art Academy. The place was chosen not accidently, the scandal about teachers sexually assaulting students echoed here as well. Photographer Dalia Mikonytė.
But the story of the Female on the Horse has it's own prehistory as well. Once the illustration of her was created - there were lots of dissatisfaction. Let's go back to see what happened then.
In the picture we see Shaltmira during the interview with INFO TV, showing how the artwork was created. In 2014 on her Facebook wall Lithuanian photographer Ruta Jankauskaite (known as Marla Singer) posted, that if she would be the president of Lithuania, she would ask another lithuanian artist, Egle Tamulyte (known as Shaltmira), to make a new version of Lithuania’s Coat of Arms (Vytis). Shaltmira saw the post and reacted very quickly and made two versions of it, and posted both in the comments. First was with the red background and second with the green background, and in both there were female on the horse, instead of a male.
When the tv reporters came to take the interview - I greeted the in a good mood. Later I saw that they talked with some politician and he told them, that if my father would have spanked me - this would had not happened. Others said if would have more time - would put me to jail.
'Female on the horse is not needed in Lithuania' - the article in the most popular Lithuania's news portal appeared. The media first caught attention of the Coat of Arms of Shaltmira, when they heard about the potential case of censorship, that Shaltmira encountered.
The case of censorship happened when then 25 years old Shaltmira was invited to participate in the group exhibition ‘Season’4: Romanticism’. When she first went to talk to the gallery with the curator of the exhibition and the director of the gallery herself, they all were looking at Shaltmira’s artworks on her website, shaltmira.com, and discussing which artworks and how they could use and display in the upcoming event. Shaltmira herself suggested to show some comics, which were based on social criticism of Lithuania’s society, but the organisers saw ‘Vyte’, Shaltmira’s Coat of Arms, and with huge enthusiasm suggested to show big scale print of it in the main window of the gallery, which was located in the center of Vilnius. Shaltmira agreed and ordered the selected artwork to print to the printing house, and asked to make it huge, 2 meters tall.
Couple days after the meeting, the curator called to Shaltmira and apologized for not being able to use the selected artwork, because the director of the gallery is worried, that it could cause troubles to the gallery. Recently the group of females artists did a performance at some other event, in different place, during which they sang their own version of Lithuania’s anthem, and they were having a scandal because somebody saw the disrespect in national Lithuania’s values in the performance and were complaining to the police.
Shaltmira agreed not to show her now already printed artwork, and just bring the documentation of the whole story printed, and display it, as well as to do the performance next to it. Even posting her drawing online caused lots of rage on internet, there were many hateful and disrespectful comments, so Shaltmira wanted to show the reaction of the society to her art in this way.
The group exhibition happened and Shaltmira showed the documentation made from Facebook screenshots, as well as both versions of Coat of Arms she created, one in green and other in red backgrounds. Then she also did a performance, where painted herself as the female on the horse, which is in her version of Lithuania’s coat of Arms. Many people came to see the event and in general it was successful, people were positive towards it.
But what all this 'KEBAB' is about?
Let's talk a bit more about the symbolism, that Shaltmira added to her illustration.
From her teenage years Shaltmira were a big fan of metal and gothic subcultures, dressed in black and listen to so called heavy music. She was known as underground artist and would draw illustrations for bands, for their album covers. She also was a big fan of 'do it yourself' culture, which was all about self-publishing and creating outside of ordinary systems. Shaltmira was also known in Lithuania as one of the first who helped to spread the comics culture. Her one strip black and white comix were depicting the everyday problems that people her age encounter, under sarcasm revealing the social problems of the society. What at first sight looked shocking and weird, after more deep investigation, could be understood as a careful study of the human subconscious, and the depth that the image would sink you in, was somewhat close to the session of the psychoanalysis itself. Here's an example, about how people think, that they know, how things suppose to be or look like:
Shaltmira's art was always known as provocative, mostly black and white, style influenced by another underground artists and meta and gothic music, but lots of people also would tell, that they felt the close connection with the creator after digging into her comics. You can see her comics here.
As you can see from this comics, that Shaltmira used similar drawing style and details when redrawing her version of Vyte. This illustration has a spirit of the comics itself. First let's look at the shoes. Vyte is wearing army boots, typical for anyone at that time, who were belonging to some subculture. Shaltmira wanted to her symbol of Lithuania to give a fresh look, how Lithuania would be free from fears, and she understood that it could be done by the method of reversing, that what is underground - to make visible, since she saw that there where she was and how she lived is somewhat of freedom. The army boots she was wearing herself, characters in her comics were wearing, and the woman on the horse was wearing now. In those days it was common to see lots of young people wearing army boots. Metalheads liked black ones, punks - colorful. Army boots were a sign that you think outside of the system, that you do not adapt to the common dress code, that you are not 'square', that you are not normcore.
Oh, and people hated to see the hairy legs and armpits, of course. And that the horse 'had make up'.
The green background is opposition to the red one. As the red light in the traffic means to 'stop', so the green light means - 'go'. Red is somewhat associated with restriction, alert, danger, and green - with freedom and nature. Lithuania is full of forests, we are proud of fresh air and the amount of trees, isn't it more suitable to have more green in our symbology? We were the last pagan country in Europe, the last ones who accepted christianity, we were the last pagans.
There are six pentacles, or pentagram symbols in the drawing as well. What do they mean?
The number 5 has always been regarded as mystical and magical, yet essentially 'human'. We have five fingers/toes on each limb extremity.We commonly note five senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. The number 5 is prime. The simplest star - the pentagram - requires five lines to draw and it is unicursal; it is a continuous loop. Expressing the saying Every man and every woman is a star, we can juxtapose Man on a pentagram with head and four limbs at the points and the genitalia exactly central. This is Man in microcosm, symbolising our place in the Macrocosm or universe and the Hermetic / Tantric philosophy of associativity as above, so below.
The pentagram may be inverted with one point down. The implication is of spirit subservient to matter, of man subservient to his carnal desires. The inverted pentagram has come to be seen by many pagans as representing the dark side and it is abhored as an 'evil' symbol. Fundamental christians, indeed, see any form of pentagram as such. However, these are recent developments and the inverted pentagram is the symbol of Gardnerian second degree initiation, representing the need to learn to face the darkness within so that it may not later rise up to take control. The centre of a pentagram implies a sixth formative element - love/will which controls from within, ruling matter and spirit by Will and the controlled magickal direction of sexual energies.
In the context of this story, we face the issues caused by confrontation of the opposite sexes. The new generation is moving towards not defining themself in binary terms at all, but to avoid confusion, in this text we will stay in this binary system, it is still Lithuania, we need to know the context, a land, where most people do not know what 'queer' even means.
So we have figured out, that more than wanting to piss off people with certain religious beliefs, we must see these inverted pentagrams as a symbol representing the need to learn to face the darkness within ourselves.
And finally we arrive to the t-shirts saying KEBAB. There's a long story behind this, and I will tell about it, even though the organizers of the National Emancipation Day personally asked me to photoshop it off the illustration before taking it to represent the event, saying that 'it will help to avoid the confusion'. I did it, but all the story of my years taking action is closely related with this seeming sense not making choice.
Lithuania - the Land of Kebabs. That's how I saw it, when I was living in Vilnius in 2014. There were many kebab shops in town and everyone would go get one with the garlic sauce late at night after partying. What more it meant to me than to get stuffed with the 'cat meat' as people were joking, was once again, a symbolical value of the act. Lithuanians, so excited now about this food which is foreign, but still, themselves being so negative towards foreigners themselves. 'Lithuania for Lithuanians!' - that's a commonly heard phrase, there's some weird and dangerous pride rising from deepest insecurities of our souls. Maybe because we faced so many occupations, maybe because still are living in fear, so we squat with sharp elbows to the side while eating kebabs and devour our kebabs fast, in case we need to jump and defend ourselves. It is well known that the biggest kebab lovers are the guys, who from the first glance, anyone would call typical east europeans. Damn, I loved those kebabs myself, so for the sake of not just pointing fingers, made this comics (and been blocked from Facebook for a while after because of it) :
We were the kebabs generation. Me, then twenty-five, and my friends around same age. Some were those who were wishing for Lithuania to be more international, others wanted it not to change. I knew all kinds of people, skinheads, metalheads, punks, sport-suits aka adidas admirers, we all would meet at night at the same kebabs spot on the hill of Tauras (Tauro kalnas), to stuff another kebab into the void.
That void was not only made of hunger, it was also formed from anger. Anger towards 'others'. The anger rises from fear though. Lithuanians have deep complex of being 'not enough'. Not enough big country, not enough rich, not enough advanced, not enough winning, not enough achieving. Kebab was always somehow poetic to me. I knew there were lack of respect not only to turkish, but for most foreigners here, and still, we consumed their goods, and we felt that it is ok to be xenophobic because of the history of the suffering that the country experienced, which is the main thing that all Lithuanians are focusing on - the past.
Soon after the group exhibition 'Season 4': Romanticism' in Pamenkalnio gallery, as the articles about the censorship appeared in the press, the photographer Saulius Paukstys contacted me and suggested to do a solo exhibition at Oslo Namai. He told me, that there I could show my Vyte - Lithuania's Coat of Arms with no fear. I decided to go with the flow. Didn't feel guilty anyway, saw it as an opportunity to continue doing art, art brings me joy - so let's do it, I told him. I decided to call this solo exhibition 'Bad (Art)works' ('Blogi Darbai'), once again, playing this game of reflecting society its 'all knowing face', laughing at society knowing 'how the Satan's ears look like'.
The opening. For this occasion I even made KEBAB t-shirts, my friends, fans and fallowers came to congratulate me with this event wearing them.
I created five new canvas inspired by the comments I read after the articles online about the Coat of Arms and censorship at the group show happened. There were more than two hundred death threats and hateful comments after one article in the main magazine of Lithuania, 'Lietuvos Rytas' ('Lithuania's Morning'). For example, one painting is called ‘Hanged’, as the author of the comment number 177 was wishing me death by hanging. Other said that i should draw two lesbians kissing, and another that I should draw a man giving a birth on the horse. There were two positive comments, but they were not that much creative. I printed all comments I found and cut them and sticked to the walls all around the gallery.
Exhibition at Oslo Namai happened. People came. Some friends came and brought kebabs. For themselves and for me. Thy were eating kebabs while I was doing my performance. I painted a traditional landscape on canvas, while playing the record that I made from reading the internet comments after the articles about me, the most entertaining ones, wishing to draw a man on a horse giving birth, to draw two lesbians kissing on the horse, to hang myself and so on. I used some digital editing programs to distort my voice and make it sound ridiculous. At the same time I was painting the blue sky and green hills and then in the corner wrote myself best grade - 10, as the teachers would do at the school when we were kids. Because that is what is GOOD ART(WORK), right?
There's no moral, no conclusion. There's a Lithuanian saying, 'Sotus nuo meno nebūsi.' ('Won't be full from art') - so here you go a kebab. And then couple years after they see all this story inspiring, and ask to use the Female On The Horse to represent the National Emancipation Day. But please, hide the kebab, too much to explain.