Five Creative Projects in Baltic Studies Receive Baumanis Grant

Jul 27, 2021

The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies is pleased to announce that M. Lee Alexander, Ugnė Marija Andrijauskaitė, Heidi Erbsen, Ignas Maldus, and Sami Siva have been awarded the 2021–2022 Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects in Baltic Studies.
The Baumanis Grant is an award made to honor Velta Marija Baumanis of Mount Brydges, Ontario, who left a generous bequest to AABS at the end of her career as an architect. An award of up to $7,000 is available for any creative project (e.g., book, film, exhibit, etc.) that promotes Baltic studies. Preference is given to topics with a pan-Baltic or comparative aspect.
The 2021 applications were evaluated by the AABS 2021-2022 Grants and Awards Committee consisting of AABS VP for Professional Development Dr. Ineta Dabašinskienė, AABS President Dr. Daunis Auers, AABS Director-at-Large Dr. Andres Kasekamp, and AABS Treasurer Uģis Sprūdžs, CFA.

“Old Love Does Not Rust”: An Exploration of the Baltics in Poetry

M. Lee Alexander, William & Mary

The goals of this project are two-fold. First, to produce an original poetry collection inspired by travel and observation in the Baltic countries. It will be comparative as similar topics are addressed for each country so readers can appreciate the complex variety of the Baltic nations. The second is to provide an accompanying writing guide, so readers can try their hand at composing poems related to Baltic themes.
This collection and guide will be available in print and online, and is designed for levels from secondary school up. Thus Baltic Studies is introduced to the wider international community, and for a potentially younger audience. This creative work will increase familiarity with Baltic nations and encourage engagement with Baltic themes.
The poetry collection will be accompanied by a Poetry Writing Guide, which can be used both by individual researchers and authors and also in the schools and by home schoolers to guide students into writing Baltic-themed poetry of their own. This Writing Guide can be used to advance understanding of and appreciation of the Baltic countries, and also encourage further study of the region in order for writers to compose their own works with depth, accuracy, cultural specificity, and detail. Many schools and universities also want to encourage a more creative and multi-modal approach to assignments, offering students a variety of modalities in addition to the composition of traditional research papers, and the writing of poetry provides an alternative mode in which students may showcase in an innovative way the results of their research and new-found knowledge and understanding of the diverse and multi-faceted cultures represented in the Baltic region.
Preparation for the project includes primary readings of classic and contemporary Baltic poetry, and secondary readings of scholarship regarding poetry and poets of the Baltics. In this way the project is rooted in and can grow from an understanding of the local poetic traditions.
M. Lee Alexander, recipient of the AABS 2021–2022 Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects in Baltic Studies
M. Lee Alexander holds an M.A. in Applied Linguistics (TESOL) and a Ph.D. in Folklore Studies (with a minor in Finno-Ugric Studies) from Indiana University. She teaches creative writing, literature, composition, and English as an Additional Language in the English Department at William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. She also teaches in the university’s Washington, D.C. Program, and in its international Study Abroad programs.
She is an inaugural member of the Reveley Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellows program in which professors from different domains (humanities, social sciences, STEM) co-teach a course. She has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Belgium, Finland, and Latvia, and as an English Language Fellow in Brazil.
Dr. Alexander has published two poetry chapbooks (Observatory 2007, Folly Bridge 2011) and a full-length collection, Spinning the Compass, from Aquillrelle Press (Belgium), 2018.

People of the Borderlands

Ugnė Marija Andrijauskaitė

The goal of the project “Borderlands” is to investigate people who live on the borders of Lithuania and Latvia as well as on the borders of Latvia and Estonia, to show their relationships and tell a visual story of transbaltic neighborhood and how it has changed during the soviet, post-soviet and contemporary transformations, as well as the global COVID-19 pandemic. The question asked is whether living in a different but neighboring country, speaking different languages and belonging to different religious communities but living close by brings people together or moves them apart. The final outcome of the project – an exhibition of photos and short stories – will tell a visual story of Baltic neighborhood.
This project will be carried out as a visual and historical (oral history) research of people living in the borderlands of three Baltic countries. Researcher Ugnė Marija Andrijauskaitė who specializes in social history will interview the people and record their memories, experiences and feelings about living on the borderland while photographer Justinas Stonkus will document their emotions, living environment and pressing issues of the modern world. The topics relevant to all three Baltic countries will be explored through the experiences of ordinary people living on the borderlands and the small narrative (microhistory) will be the main point of attention, as one of the best ways to talk about global and international issues is by personal touch and personal stories. Emotional bond with the protagonists of this visual story might not only raise interest in Pan-Baltic topics, but also encourage further investigations of historians, social and political scientists, ethnologists, anthropologists, journalists.
Ugnė Marija Andrijauskaitė is Kaunas (Lithuania) based historian who holds a PhD degree from Vytautas Magnus University. Her fields of interest is social, cultural and oral history of 20th century Lithuania and microhistory. Her PhD thesis was dedicated to the labor movement in interwar Lithuania and her studies of social, labor and women’s history was published in various historical magazines or presented in international conferences.
Ugnė is currently a freelance researcher, writer and lecturer: she writes popular history articles and investigates various issues of today’s society combining the interviewing tradition of oral history with visual storytelling in partnership with a photographer Justinas Stonkus.
Ugnė Marija Andrijauskaitė, recipient of the AABS 2021–2022 Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects in Baltic Studies.

More than just Movies: Baltic Language Learning Film Festival

Heidi Erbsen, University of Tartu

Films are so much more than a simple form of entertainment: they are a mirror to, and reflection of, the way languages, cultures, histories, and politics interact. Far too often, subtle historical reference, linguistic nuances, or political satire go unnoticed in films, and this proves especially true for films viewed by intercultural audiences. This project integrates the entertainment of the film industry with historical and educational practices to promote Baltic language and cultures in various educational settings.
This project will bring together teachers from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to create a resource to help teach about the history, culture, and languages of the three Baltic countries through film. The educational resource will include lesson plans for 10-15 movies in Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, and English which can be used in educational environments and by independent learners to understand the languages and cultures more deeply. At the end of the yearlong project to develop the resource, a mini film festival will be organized to introduce three of the films and present the final book of resources. The project will cooperate with local theaters and educational institutes to ensure international copyright rules are strictly followed in creating the resource book and hosting the film festival. The introduction to the resource book will also include guidelines for teachers and facilitators to help them abide by copyright rules while using films as an educational resource.
While the project is primarily focused on providing an easy to use and interactive resource made by and for language and culture teachers, it will be accessible for independent learners as well. This will not only encourage independent language learners, but with the use of films, promote the uniqueness of the Baltic languages and cultures in an audio-visual way. Universities, centers, associations, and other organizations that host conferences or cultural events often show historically relevant films as a form of entertainment or platform for discussion. Being able to provide background material and interactive vocabulary and discussion questions, along with resources for similar movies, will keep participants of these events engaged and allow individuals to share resources through their personal networks as well. The book of resources this project will produce is a valuable and sustainable tool for making the cultural, linguistic, historical, and political aspects of the Baltic countries more accessible through film.
Heidi Erbsen, recipient of the AABS 2021–2022 Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects in Baltic Studies
Heidi Erbsen is a current PhD student in Media and Communications at Tartu University where she focuses on the interacting narratives and identity formation of Russian speakers in Estonia. She has also worked as an English teacher and cultural facilitator regularly for the past 10 years and full time for the past 8, including as a Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Yelets, Russia in 2015, teacher for American Councils FLEX program (summers of 2017-2019), and class teacher at Tartu International School (2017-2021).
While working on her PhD and simultaneously teaching English and Literature (among other subjects), she has seen first-hand how the audio visuals that movies provide can help bridge gaps in understanding between cultures and languages. In 2020, she established her own company Worlds of Communications OÜ to help facilitate interactive learning, and for the last year and a half, she has also been organizing a virtual language exchange with individuals learning English and Russian.
With the “More than just Movies” project, she is looking forward to using her teaching and cultural experience to create a sustainable resource for teachers, cultural program organizers, and independent learners alike.


Ignas Maldus (Maldžiūnas)

The site-specific visual art project “WorkAndFun“ is about abandoned places where the „New Soviet Person“ had fun, relaxed, and spent leisure time. I wander through the old buildings and restore people‘s festive past. The older generation and even their children (based on photos) can remember those places which were special occasions to escape from the Soviet work reality and daily routine – in the meantime; it was the same seasonal routine.
Time perspective lets us review the Soviet past with fewer emotions. I agree that this period is traumatic, but at the same time, people tried to live as happy as they could – they celebrated feasts, birthdays, anniversaries, danced, and had fun. It was done in a trite way, but emotions were pure and let people forget daily oppression.
I believe that places (buildings) of those special occasions are an essential part of the humanistic side of history. I want to collect those places, add a sincere perspective, and present it in an artistic way, which I have not seen so far. It is already hard to find those buildings-witnesses (as the majority are rebuilt), so my trip might be one of the last opportunities to make an archive of Soviet leisure memories.
More info about the project can be found on its website.
Ignas Maldus (Maldžiūnas) is a photography artist, a graduate of the Vilnius Academy of Arts, a member of the Lithuanian Photographers Union and LATGA, and an ambassador for the “Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022”.
Ignas Maldus has been making photography art for almost 20 years; he has organized 14 solo exhibitions. His artworks are presented at the Saatchi Gallery, and there are many private collections.
Traveling the world, the artist personalizes objects and creates micro scenes. His works of art are created with unique techniques (long exposures and painting with colored lights) were delivered from South Africa, Kazakhstan, the USA, Indonesia, UAE, India, Morocco, and Europe. Ignas Maldus has a peculiar drawing that stands out from the context of Lithuanian photography: the author experiments with color, is particularly attentive to light and detail, and masters the scenography of the environment. The artist’s ability to combine sensitivity with conceptual thinking makes him one of the most prominent representatives of metamodernism.
Ignas Maldus, recipient of the AABS 2021–2022 Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects in Baltic Studies

Borderlands: Stories from the Baltics

Sami Siva

Border regions of the Baltic states are home to diverse ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic communities who have often been marginalised from mainstream national narratives or reduced to stereotypes in Western media. This is particularly the case of the Russophone communities in Narva and Daugavpils, who have often been stigmatised as subject to Russian influence and as a potential security threat, especially in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Offering a unique glimpse of life in the borderlands of the Baltic states, this project provides an alternative perspective on the region, going beyond stereotypical views to exploring the experiences of the people who make the region what it is, adds much needed nuance to the broader picture of life in the Baltic states.
From a geopolitical perspective, borders are a frequent subject of policymaking and dispute. Yet for people living and working in border regions, they are an unavoidable part of life, experienced in surprising and, often, personal ways. This project aims to explore the ‘everyday’ impact of these political delineations on the lives of ordinary people in the border regions.
Through the medium of photography and oral histories, this project collects stories of people in the borderlands to shed light on the real world implications of decisions made at the political level. The approach taken in this project to emphasize visual manifestations and performances of identities in the Baltic states seeks to compliment the growing volume of literature exploring the theoretical implications of the border regions, whilst also opening up the field of Baltic studies to wider audiences.
The collaborative project benefits from the contributions Michael Cole (PhD candidate in political science at the University of Tartu) and Catherine Gibson (Research Fellow in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Tartu).
Sami Siva, recipient of the AABS 2021–2022 Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects in Baltic Studies
Sami Siva’s work mainly revolves around photographing fractured identities. His work “ United, Divided” is about struggling identities within India: tribal conflicts in Northeastern India along the geopolitically sensitive and porous border between India and Myanmar, the civil uprisings in Kashmir between the locals and Indian army, and the ongoing conflict in Central India between Maoist / Naxalite rebels and the Indian government. In Sri Lanka, he photographed the aftermath of the brutal end of a long-running conflict between Tamil Tigers and Sinhalese government forces. Also, he has worked in the front lines in Eastern Ukraine, photographed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in the south Cacusus and lived and worked in Central and Eastern European countries. He is a recipient of three grants from Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and multiple awards. His work has appeared in a number of international publications including The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Foreign Policy Magazine, Al Jazeera, The Guardian among others.
He is currently pursuing his MA in the EU – Russia studies at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu.

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