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Rome hosts the largest exhibition of Jonas Mekas’ work in Europe

Lithuanian Culture Institute

On 9 November, one of the culminating events of the centenary of Jonas Mekas celebrated all over the world, Europe’s largest retrospective exhibition of the work of the legendary Lithuanian filmmaker, titled Jonas Mekas. The Images Are Real, was presented at Mattatoio, an exhibition space highly valued by connoisseurs of contemporary art in Rome.

“The memory is gone, but my images are here, the images are real!” This phrase by Jonas Mekas  from his film Out-takes From the Life of a Happy Man became the motto of the exhibition, according to the curators’ duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi. “By presenting the scope of Mekas’ seven decades of creative life, we not only celebrate his centenary and remember the man who inspired three generations of artists and filmmakers around the world, but also support the eternal presentness of art – a gaze of a creative person that is personal yet at the same time political, a person who cares deeply about global events”, shared the curators of the exhibition. According to Aušrinė Žilinskienė, head of the Lithuanian Culture Institute, which together with its partners coordinates the international programme of the centenary of Jonas Mekas and presents this exhibition in Rome, the secret of the relevance of Mekas’ work and personality and his ability to inspire new generations lies in the attitude of an artist who sees and captures the world openly: “The story of Mekas’ life and creative outlet helps us comprehend the present in which the world is once again torn by war and thousands of people are forced to their homeland.”

The structure of the exhibition opened in one of the pavilions of the 19th-century industrial architecture complex, which until 1975 was the largest slaughterhouse in Europe, mirrors the journey at the heart of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, to which Jonas Mekas kept returning throughout his reading life: a journey from the horrors of history, survived and recorded, to the stoical appreciation of happy moments of life through creativity and the tireless search for paradise. The exhibition space, like the entrance to Dante’s Hell, opens with a massive screen showing the 2001 movie Ein Märchen Aus alten Zeite (From Fairy Tales of Old): apocalyptic views and sounds of collapsing Twin Towers, filmed by Jonas Mekas from the roof of his building. The final element of the retrospective is his visual manifesto Cinema is Not 100 Years Old, which is an apotheosis of not only cinema that is forever young and everlasting but also of friendship: “The real history of cinema is invisible history: history of friends who come together and make what they love.” For the Francesco Urbano Ragazzi duo, it is very important to consolidate the theme of friendship in this exhibition: not only to capture certain influences by Jonas Mekas’ avantgarde cinema discoveries on Italian filmmakers (such as Federico Fellini) but also subtly underline the importance of a network of friends for a person forced to leave their homeland – for creating a world for themselves that is safe and full of love.

Italy, which was a special place to Jonas Mekas – as a land of friendship, creative cooperation and mutual inspiration – inspired all the exhibition partners for this exceptional cooperation: curators, heads and staff of Mattatoio and Palaexpo, an art space complex in Rome which includes this post-industrial space, the Lithuanian cultural attaché in Italy Laura Gabrielaitytė-Kazulėnienė, who initiated the idea to present Jonas Mekas’ work in it, the Lithuanian Culture Institute and Jonas Mekas’ family and Jonas Mekas Estate, who generously provided unique exhibits, and the Lithuanian Embassy in Rome.

The international project Jonas Mekas 100! is dedicated to the centenary year of the birth of the avant-garde filmmaker, film critic and poet Jonas Mekas in 2022. The programme, comprising over 50 various events, has been prepared by the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Lithuanian cultural attachés and the Estate of Jonas Mekas. Film screenings, exhibitions, video installations, concerts, poetry readings, discussion and thematic residency programmes, poetry translation workshops, publishing projects and other initiatives will take place in leading cultural institutions in many countries around the world. The programme is partially funded by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania. The Jonas Mekas 100! programme is available on the website