Projection of “Rūdninkų Street No. 6, Vilnius, Lithuania, (Former Judenrat Headquarters, Vilna Ghetto 1)” (2021), gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches
LOS ANGELES — In Jonas Kulikauskas’s black and white photographs, the peaceful streets of Vilnius, Lithuania, hide a dark secret. The cobblestones trace the footprint of the Vilna Ghetto, where nearly 40,000 Jews lived during the Holocaust.
In I Often Forget, Kulikauskas’s solo exhibition at California State University, Los Angeles, the photographer illuminates a history that, until recently, has been obscured by scholars. In 1941, thousands of Jews were forced to live in the Vilna Ghetto, and by 1943, about 95% of them had been murdered or relocated to concentration camps. With the community decimated, Jewish stories nearly vanished. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian government reopened its Jewish museum and erected memorials, but contemporary life still paid little attention to the Jewish culture that once thrived in their neighborhood. With a World War II era lens mounted to a modern, 8 x 10 large format camera body, Kulikauskas recreated the archival aesthetics of the ghetto with modernity shining through his subjects: a cafégoer typing on their laptop, a delivery driver with their COVID-19 facemask pulled over their chin, and a wedding party celebrating their union on haunted grounds.