It is very appropriate that the first personal exhibition of the new building of the Estonian National Museum is dedicated to Anu Raud, whose role as a bearer of Estonian folk art is difficult to overemphasize, especially since her 75th birthday falls on the same year with the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. The exhibition consists of two parts. Ene-Liis Semper has designed the main part in a separate gallery. The second part of the exhibition which is located next to the entrance to the museum is immediately visible to those who enter the museum. This part consists of rugs that were chosen in collaboration with the artist and the curator. On the one hand, it allows for a larger number of Anu Raud’s works to be exhibited, including the works that for one reason or another did not fit into the gallery; and on the other hand, it brings the exhibition out of the primary room and lets the works interact with the building in a different way.
Although it is an overview exhibition, the curator has avoided the chronological approach and for this exhibition, it works – it’s good to see how the rugs of different decades have the same motifs in a new context. It is possible to see the first rug of Anu Raud, Muhu Couple, completed as the graduate work of the art institute in 1968, as well as her newest work Landscapes of My Fatherland by which the exhibition is named after. When the colour range has become more restrained and the composition more minimalistic during the career of the artist, many strong symbols and themes in her work have survived over time.
Anu Raud’s rugs have a certain pictorial character. Rug as a predominantly two-dimensional medium favours this tendency, but the important part in this is also played by the fact that young Anu Raud wanted to become a painter. Thus, the viewer feels that they are at a painting exhibition where the oil painting or watercolor technique has been replaced with textiles. As the tradition of knitting rugs is much older than painting in Estonia, the medium also refers to folk culture. While studying works closely, the use of colour reminds a little bit of painting and the change-overs of the colour tones of yarn recall brush strokes. The colours of the same rug may seem completely different to the eye depending on the viewer’s location in the room.
The artist’s style combines various mythologies, traditions, and cultural layers through the ages. Christian and local indigenous mythology are presented side by side, blended with witty clues to the present. There is a pink car on one rug and EstCube on the other. Contrary to many other examples of contemporary interpretations of folk art that focus only on rural and farm culture, several rugs by Raud are dedicated to the urban environment. Pikk jalg (Long Leg, a street in Tallinn) depicts the street in Old Town as a striped stocking, Tower depicts Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann). In its minimalism and clarity, Night in the City is particularly noticeable, both the city lights and the stars shining above them are depicted as the eight-heeled stars. In addition to the cross, eight-heeled stars are one of the most common elements in Anu Raud’s rugs, combining different mythologies.
As noted by the exhibition’s curator Reet Mark, Anu Raud’s works cross culture and generations. The purpose and locations of the rugs are also often associated with the life cycles of a human. Many of her rugs are located at schools, indicating the artist’s interest in combining different generations and past and present-day folk culture. Similarly, there is a clever humour on many of her rugs that crosses the borders of generations. Walk-about makes socks look like animals. Mitten Trees delivers the artist’s desire to help the bare and freezing trees in winter by covering them with mittens – on the one hand, the work reminds of old children’s stories, on the other hand, the ancient sacred grove traditions of Estonians and the old beliefs of animatism of many natural cultures. Rugs made for Civil Registry Offices also form a separate theme. Among them, beautifully composed Wedding Day from the Võru Town Government stands out. At the center of the work are the newlyweds above the wedding bed, around them are the wedding guests and a selection of items that make up something which is like the encyclopedia of everyday life. The pair of rugs, Suitor and Together is borrowed from the Viljandi Town Government. Thus, the motives are mythological and contemporary at the same time, focusing on various symbolic events and periods in life.
As a separate topic, some private stories can be found on the rugs. Dawn is a reference to the artist’s bedroom window and the entering sunlight that signals the arrival of the morning. Field Worshippers tells the story of how Anu Raud worked in the field decades ago with her fellow students, and kind local women lent the woolen skirts for girls to prevent their „modern“ jeans from getting dirty. Play discusses the nature of work and traditions in a changing world through the complex life of the artist’s father Mart Raud, referring to the novel Axe and Moon. For Anu Raud, folk art is something that connects different people but is deeply individual at the same time.
All in all, Landscapes of My Fatherland is a good example of the fact that folk art is not a static phenomenon, but a mythology in constant change, in which different periods and generations do not need to contradict each other. The exhibition works equally well for both Estonian and foreign visitors. The motives of Raud are sufficiently clear and cross-cultural, not requiring explanations or prior knowledge, but at the same time, they are sufficiently detailed to provide an opportunity for going deeper.
I would like to sincerely thank the curator Reet Mark for a pleasant conversation and the exhibition experience.
Photo: Anu Raud’s rug Joyful News