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The Latvian diaspora consists of Latvian nationals who lived outside of Latvia during the Soviet occupation. As more than 200,000 Latvian citizens died during World War II and the Nazi occupation, thousands of Latvians fled the country to become the diaspora. When these Latvian displaced persons came to the United States and other western countries, they saw in the subsequent Soviet occupation of their homeland, an effort to eradicate Latvian culture. But resources are now available, in Latvia and abroad, to provide a substantial overview of the culture of this period.
As far as the visual arts, in Latvia there are three main institutions responsible for maintaining information on artists of the Diaspora: the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Latvian Center for Contemporary Art and the Latvian Artist’s Union. Together, they have begun to complete the history of European art.
Latvian art historian Janis Siliņš, in 1990, described the movement to which Mark Rothko, Jānis Kalmīte, Lucia Peka, Mārtiņš Krūmiņš and other Latvian-Americans belong as "those artists who amidst the changing trends of contemporary art, after thirty years in exile and emigration, as still basically close to and developing the traditions of their homeland art - of the 'Latvian or Riga School'"
Artists of the Latvian diaspora include:
- Maurice Sterne (1878–1957) painter
- Hugo Kārlis Grotuss (1884–1951) painter
- Isac Friedlander (1890–1968) printmaker
- Jazeps Grosvalds (1891–1920) painter
- Aleksandra Belcova (1892–1981) painter
- Mārtiņš Krūmiņš (1900 to 1992) painter
- Mark Rothko (1903–1970) Painter
- Philippe Halsman (1906–1979) photographer
- Jānis Kalmīte (1907–1996) painter
- Wally Brants (1909–1998) painter
- Lucia Peka (1912–1991) painter
- Vija Celmins (born 1939) painter
In 2004, in the State of Illinois, the Global Society for Latvian Art. was created to track the Latvian Diaspora. It is a nonprofit organization - a United States 501(c)(3) corporation- whose stated mission is:
“To promote, preserve, and exhibit works of art created by artists who were exiled from Latvia as a result of the Second World War as well as other artists of Latvian descent; to promote and encourage global communication among persons interested in Latvian art and culture; to establish and operate a museum of Latvian diaspora art dedicated to collecting, studying, exhibiting and preserving such art; and to work with all existing Latvian-American organizations and other organizations in trust and harmony and to develop close ties between Latvian-Americans and others whose goals are to support and promote Latvian art and other Latvian cultural art forms.”
Vision: To establish a world center/museum for Latvian art in Latvia, the central focus of which will be to collect art representing Latvian artists from the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, South America, Europe, and wherever else Latvian artists have lived and worked outside of Latvia. The collection will be created through donations from artists, their families, organizations and private collectors, subject to guidelines developed by the Global Society for Latvian Art (see Donate Artwork). The center will present exhibits from its permanent collection, invitational shows, and the work of local Latvian artists, in order to explore various curatorial themes and to contribute to the artistic education of the public. The center will be a resource for scholarly research about Latvian artists, featuring an electronic database as well as physical documents and other materials pertaining to the collection and to the historical period it represents.