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Sniedze Rungis


Love is not an emotion. Love is an electromagnetic energy field … when love functions, there is no subjugator nor the subjugated.” Sniedze Rungis on radical love according to the teaching of Jesus Christ

 Sniedze Rungis: Art as Activism and Antidote


by Jeanette Lee


Art as activism depends on the artist. Sniedze Rungis’ “current response to a damaging epidemic in our country” (that is, the plague of pornography and the sex industry: a multi-billion-dollar profit-making venture) is Survivor (Stations of the Cross). Survivor is an artist’s book conceptualized as a Holocaust memorial by Sniedze and photographed by James Riegel.

Sniedze’s art creates connections to this “contemporary spiritual holocaust” and confronts the question: How do we approach this issue without allowing it to consume us? Sniedze says, “We can do something about it if we join together, as always.”

Sniedze’s parents fled their homeland of Latvia to escape the Soviet army during WWII. Sniedze was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany. When Sniedze was six months old, her family emigrated to Midwestern United States. Sniedze and her family maintained their roots in Latvian culture and heritage (Sniedze speaks, reads and writes in Latvian and is a well-known artist and poet in the Latvian community) while developing new roots in Michigan. Sniedze’s art, like Survivor, is informed by her family’s loss and displacement because of the Soviet occupation of Latvia.

Survivor by Sniedze Rungis

Survivor is a dramatized and photographed recreation of a woman’s journey through a Third Reich death camp. The woman (portrayed by Sniedze) is naked – like the millions that passed through the industrialized mass murder system. She is captured in movements symbolically replicating the Stations of the Cross, while following the path of a Holocaust victim through the death camp. “If people choose to view this in a salacious manner, they need to seek professional help,” the artist states.


Survivor originated with Sniedze’s desire to differentiate the erotic spark of art from the flat perversion of pornography. The project opens with an introduction by Sniedze, next to a copy of a photograph from a pogrom in Lemberg, Austria in 1942. In the image we see an unprotected woman: she is naked, seated on the cement, surrounded by German functionaries – all fully-clothed males. Survivor is dedicated to this anonymous woman.

The sequential experience of the photos reminds the viewer the body is the soul’s friend, its sanctuary. While creating Survivor, Sniedze intentionally invoked images of Buddha’s face – “retaining consciousness even in hell.” In addition to the facial expressions of Sniedze, the soul in Survivor is visually evident by intentional points of light in the black and white photographs. 

folio 003.jpg
Sniedze Rungis with Folio 0003 photo by Zinta Aistars

The hand-crafted wooden boxes (marked with black numbers, 0001, 0002, 0003, 0004)  housing the Survivor folio replicate Trench Art, which is art made with objects collected from areas of military conflict. Folios 0001, 0002 and 0004 are distributed amongst the Occupation Museum of Riga, Latvia; The Moscow Holocaust Museum; and the Detroit Holocaust Memorial Center. Folio 003 is currently in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Inside each box is a reptilian-leather-clad book. Sniedze chose the silvery-black leather because it was reminiscent of the leather employed in the visually imposing SS trench coats. Inside the box, to the left of the book, is a small compartment containing a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles and a pair of white gloves stained with red, creating the aura of an exhumation. 

Sniedze is interested in developing a theatrical tour with a potential Survivor exhibit. By incorporating spoken word with her artist’s book, she hopes to elucidate the present pornography pandemic plaguing our nation and it’s correlation with the Holocaust.

How is the epidemic use of pornography akin to the danger of the Holocaust? In both humans are objectified in order to provide a rush of power to the perpetrator. Pornography desensitizes to acts of dehumanization--the same brain washing process used by the Nazis preceding and during the Holocaust.

Sniedze notes both women’s and men’s attitudes toward modesty, how it used to be: for a woman, modesty was not only protection, but an inner attitude. And a man’s greatest strength is gentleness. At the root of society’s complacency to dehumanization, “is our separation from nature and our natural being.’ Referring to the epidemic of ‘sexting,’ she says, “We seem not to be able to teach our children that their bodies are sacred.”

Star Girl by Sniedze Rungis

After creating Survivor, Sniedze completed a project called Stargazer: a photo series integrating images of sacred spaces in Latvia with cosmic images from the Hubble telescope. This focus on divine creation in Sniedze’s art is her antidote to Survivor. She felt compelled to attain equilibrium between her internal and external being, and to recall the spiritual in a time of spiritual drought. The medium of her art depends on where she is in her life at that moment of creation, and what resources are available. “It takes time to hear the inspiration, it takes solitude and silence.”

Next on the agenda for Sniedze is an exhibit at the Embassy of Latvia in Washington D.C. The Explorer Series will debut at the Latvian Embassy in September 2010. Explorer is a compilation of photos from her expedition to the sacred spaces/holy places in Latvia. Explorer embodies the persona of the explorer recovering our cosmic bond. Reflecting her Latvian heritage, at the inaugural exhibit of Explorer, Sniedze will ask women to wear traditional Latvian jewelry, which incorporates the sacred geometry that represents natural and cosmic powers.

Sniedze Rungis has a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. Formerly, she apprenticed with The Whole Art Theatre in Kalamazoo, Michigan, between 1984 and 1992 under the theatre’s founder and director, Dr. Werner Krieglstein. Sniedze went on to become the theatre’s artistic director from 1992 to 1997, as well as coordinator of Mascaras y Manos, a theater program for children of migrant workers. She presently works full time as a visual artist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about the art of Sniedze Rungis.


Survivor by Sniedze Rungis

Sniedze Rungis

Black Vinyl



The black vinyl

on the bar seats

reminds me of human skin.

Two things

come into mind:

Buchenwald and that man

sitting two tables down.

I’d like to go over

ask him to go outside

through the sunshine to somewhere

where we could lie down

in our own darkness.

I’ve never dared

that. Probably

never will.

But something in me

cries way back

all the way back.


I’d like to own that lamp

the commandant’s wife in Auschwitz

made from human skin.

I’d like to

turn it off

so that there would be

darkness at last.






My face is changing

no matter

how I paint my lips

and arrange the hair

over my forehead

I cannot hide

that an ice-age

passed over

my face

removed some

thing forever

and dug like the fierce glacier.

Ahhh – what absolute thought

is this invisible glistening

wall of ice

that leaves me brands me

unearths me makes me

these raw ravines and

hollows smooth as grace

destined to catch moving waters

and cradle the upward thrust

of a spring ringing like crystal;

am I truly becoming nothing

but a mirror

am I walking in beauty

am I myself no longer newly sprung

have my bones made progress

in their long journey to the surface

is there something of me

that has gone away

and hidden behind the transparent curtain?



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