Culture: the Key to Latvia

Cover Photo: Artists Krišs Salmanis and Kaspars Podnieks before the Opening of the 55th international Venice Biennale featuring their works at the Latvian pavillion entitled "North by Northeast"

If you want to understand Latvians, or are ready to fall in love with Latvia, you should get to know its cultural life. Once you embark on this journey, you will never want to finish it. The cultural landscape of Latvia has its peaks and valleys, panoramic views and fast turns. It is too diverse to generalize, though you may come across some common threads.

It is surprising to what extent the traditional culture and folklore serves as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Latvian arts, design and architecture. And so does the complex history of Latvia – it provides never-ending food for thought, the content for plays, poems, novels, even musical compositions and visual art. One should note that the Latvian art scene, especially visual arts, and to a lesser extent literature, went through a period of disorientation during the socialist years, with its attempts to instrumentalise arts by preferring one kind of esthetics and prohibiting another. Thus, resistance became a driving force for art and artists for a significant amount of time.

Having a language that has ancient roots but is nowadays spoken by only two million people is another key factor for developments in Latvian culture. On the one hand, it could have made our poets and writers less heard for wider audiences, on the other hand – cherishing the language and seeing it as endangered cultural value has been a powerful impulse for creative work. With no scientific proof we can assume that language is also the ground for musicality that Latvians apparently have in their blood – there are disproportionately many talented Latvian musicians that are appreciated far beyond its borders.

The real success of culture are not awards and prizes (although Latvians have got them too), the real value of culture lies in the extent to which culture is necessary for its creators and audiences, how much in use it is. And here, culture is part of the air we breathe; it stretches towards the horizon.