NNAQH ▰ Blog: On the Lithuanian Queer Archive

“išgirsti” space, Photo by Severina Venckutė
“išgirsti” space, Photo by Severina Venckutė

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On the Lithuanian Queer Archive

28. May 2024 | Written by Viktorija Kolbešnikova, Augustas Čičelis

“išgirsti” Queer Archive provides knowledge about queer history in Lithuania and beyond, collecting and preserving objects, stories and other artefacts that bear witness to our queer lives.

išgirsti” Lithuanian Queer Archive initiative, the idea and need of which had been circulating in the community already for quite a while, was launched in 2020. There were fragments and pursuits before, but this is the first project, which attempts to consolidate and systematically collect historical material.

For us a queer archive is a repository of queer people’s stories and experiences, which contributes to rethinking, researching and building the community around marginalised history. There are scholars in Lithuania who are interested in queer history, but their work is usually buried in university drawers. Our archive therefore becomes a place where knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community is created and shared.

The stories of people condemned to the margins remain on the margins. These stories are contradictory, inconsistent, and their existence is bound by silence and secrecy. Queer people’s stories are trapped between absence and presence. In this way, stories become queer not only because they are about queer people. They become queer because they resist being generalized, condensed into a single narrative, straightened out.

Creative approaches and methods queer the story itself and show that everything is more subtle, and the emphasis is put together by the narrator. Who is telling our story and in what way? Silence and the gaps in stories become as important as testimonies. Opportunities open up to talk about imaginary things – desires, myths and rumours.

Typically, queer footprints would be found in court files or medical records. How do we find and preserve what is outside the state narrative? Is it safe to talk publicly about our strange and extremely interesting lives which include glory holes in railway station toilets, parties in abandoned wooden houses, and gatherings of all kinds in private flats, allowing us to relax, to escape from ourselves and into ourselves? The silence of secluded sexualities is closely linked to security.

Therefore, talking about queer history requires a great responsibility. Any publicity is an exposure of weakness. The endless reports of hate crimes against queer people and our everyday experiences results in us often not even wanting to share our colourful lives with others. By preserving our privacy, we often also protect our lives, and the silence born of the need for self-preservation becomes a refuge.

With “išgirsti” Queer Archive initiative, we want things and stories to end up in a place where it is safe to share and gather, where one knows that their story will not become another insensitively presented object of a contemporary art project, or the narrative of a TV show, with a mask and a changed voice, a tribute to the hetero imaginary.

išgirsti” Queer Archive is a place that provides knowledge about queer history in Lithuania and beyond, collecting and preserving objects, stories and other artefacts that bear witness to our queer lives.

We have spent a lot of time researching other queer archives in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe. Often the basis and the start of these archives was a private archive of an LGBTQ+ organisation or a person. In the beginning we did not have anything like that. However, in early 2022, we have received some personal belongings of Neringa Dangvydė (1975–2020), an open lesbian, writer, poet, literary critic, editor, translator and author of the book of fairy tales “Amber Heart”, which has become a symbol of the struggle for freedom of expression of the LGBTQ+ community in Lithuania. These things were doomed to disappear or to be scattered in random hands, but, thanks to favourable circumstances, they were lying around for almost a couple of years in Neringa’s room in Vilnius, before they were finally noticed and kindly offered to us. Of course some of the items were no longer in the room and some could not be handed over to us, but we received an invaluable collection for the LGBTQ+ community.

We are just beginning to organise this personal archive, realising that this will be a long, open-end process. However, this year we have presented the archive together with the artist Anton Karyuk, remembering Neringa and her quest for justice, commemorating the 10th anniversary of “Amber Heart”, while the laws humiliating the LGBTQ+ community remain in force in Lithuania. The main part of Neringa’s archive consists of postcards. Some of them are addressed to Neringa, some of them are not addressed to anyone, collected by Neringa herself and not yet sent. They also became the central element of the exhibition, centering her personality and relationships, rather than focusing on the court case, emphasizing that queer people deserve different representation.

In contrast, another exhibition we organised focused on rather what is not accessible for us, as a queer initiative, and what we do not have. “Šonta. From the Archives” presented works of the Lithuanian photographer Virgilijus Šonta (1952–1992), which we were lucky to borrow from a private museum. The show questioned what constitutes an artist’s archive, who and how gets to decide what is presented for public gaze, who and how is given a voice to speak about memory, which archives get picked as sources for big event narratives. Images in the show pondered the issues of freedom, identity, and gaze.

We run a library, collect writings and images, record oral history, research spaces and practices, publish an annual printed queer magazine dedicated to presenting, documenting and archiving queer culture in Lithuanian language, devoting a lot of attention to the history which is rather recent but easily forgotten. First and foremost, we use the queer archive as a tool and platform to talk about queer history and culture, thus we cooperate extensively with other cultural and queer organisations and initiatives both in Lithuania and abroad.


Augustas Čičelis and Viktorija Kolbešnikova are curators of “išgirsti” Queer Archive (isgirsti.lt) and organisers of the Vilnius Queer Festival “Kreivės” (festivaliskreives.lt) as well as the queer cultural and social space in Vilnius. Both are active participants in the queer and feminist movements, have a background in gender studies, and base their practice in the broader fields of social justice, self-education and self-organisation.