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ASIAN ART STORIES: Latvia and Japan

An exhibition Latvia and Japan: A Hundred Years of Friendship. Personalities and Bequests within the exhibition series Asian Art Stories will be on view from 19 November 2021 until 30 January 2022 at the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE in Riga (Doma laukums 6). Exhibition introduces the history of bilateral relations between Latvia and Japan, the activities of the first Latvian government’s diplomatic representative in Kobe Jānis Andrejs Ozoliņš and two bequests of Japanese art to the museum.

In 1919, Japan was one of the first nations which extended de facto recognition to Latvia’s recently gained independence, but in 1921, together with other member countries of the Supreme Council of Allied Powers (United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Italy), recognized Latvia de jure. In the period of Latvia’s independence in the years prior to the World War II, Japan was the only Asian state which had a representation in Latvia.

Exhibition showcases two bequests – the first and the last – in total 17 objects that reveal Japanese traditions, skills of the masters, as well as various interactions between religious, philosophical and cultural aspects. First bequest with ten different figurines and a reproduction album with works of famous Japanese artists was sent to the State Museum of Art by professor Ozoliņš in 1921.

Teacher, writer and publicist Jānis Andrejs Ozoliņš (1894–1959) was the first Latvian government representative whose work and life was connected with Japan. Ozoliņš lectured in ethics and English literature at Kwansei Gakuin College (1918–1921), was a contributor to the Japan Chronicle newspaper, and from 1920 the Latvian Provisional Government’s Diplomatic and Consular Agent in Kobe. Ozoliņš provided extensive despatches to the Foreign Ministry about the situation in Japan, undertook journalistic and informative work, tried to facilitate trading links between Latvia and Japan. His works on the history of the Latvian people and the newly established Latvian state in English and Japanese languages were invaluable. Ozoliņš’ educational work and his bright personality has not been forgotten even today in Japan. On 20 October 2011, the Kwansei Gakuin University unveiled a commemorative plaque to its Latvian lecturer Jānis Andrejs Ozoliņš and planted Latvian birches and oaks in the garden.

Whereas in November 2021, Japan’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Latvia Yasuhiro Kawaguchi’s wife Toshie Kawaguchi made a bequest of seven items – traditional Japanese kimono and its components – an obi, zōri sandals and a handbag, as well as two kokeshi dolls.

Both bequests mark the beginning of the Museum’s collection of Japanese art and its continuality, characterizing the friendly relationship between Latvia and Japan.

The exhibition series Asian Art Stories produced by the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE encourages to discover and understand certain artworks, techniques, functions as well as their philosophical, religious, cultural, and contextual significance. Western viewers have always been fascinated with the Asian art by its extraordinary form, technique and aesthetic view. The Asian Art Collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art has several thousand artworks from different Asian countries, however, only part of them are exhibited in the Asian Art Gallery of the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE. By showing one artwork or a group of objects, within the exhibition series, we discover these exceptional stories that often remain unheard. This time the exhibition is widely dedicated to the history of the collection and the history of diplomatic relations between Latvia and Japan.