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Collage Oskar Minkowski

Oskar Minkowski was a prominent scientist, who was born in Kaunas in 1858. His body of research work became the basis for insulin production. His activities and discoveries impact my life, and I feel that every day. I, having lived with diabetes for many years, fully understand what fate would await me if the treatment for this disease had not been invented. Consequently, I honoured Oskar Minkowski, a Lithuanian scientist of great import, when creating this installation for the Endocrinology And Skin Clinic at Kaunas Hospital. The hospital is part of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, and its contribution to the treatment and research of diabetes should be recognised.

Minkowski spent the first fourteen years of his life in Kaunas. He lived in Aleksotas, and every day, going to school, he crossed the bridge to the old town of Kaunas. Later, due to the repression of the Jews by the tsarist government, the scientist’s family emigrated to Königsberg, Prussia, where he defended his doctoral thesis. Later he also worked in Strasbourg, Cologne, Greifswald, and Breslau. I have no doubt that he never forgot Kaunas.

Now, more than 130 years after Minkowski’s discovery, I tried to imagine how he would view his hometown if he could return to it at the height of his career in Strasbourg. I was unable to paint the scientist live, therefore I spent a lot of time searching and collecting images of him in publications and on the internet, to best capture his personality.

I was inspired by Prof. Aleksandras Vitkus’ article “Kaunas city during the period of residence of O. and H. Minkowski”, in the magazine “Diabeto panorama” (2010 No. 21). It made it possible to create a clearer picture of Kaunas at the end of the 19th century. I also looked for an even more accurate image of Kaunas in the original postcards published in the 1900s, which were shown to me by endocrinologist Vladimir Petrenko.

The collage of Oskar Minkowski is a contemporary work inspired by history. I created it by using my favourite mixed media technique: my unique painting style and collage. As always, I tried to stay true to the essential values of my work – I wanted the work to be more than aesthetically pleasing, it also has to send an important message. This year, 2021, is the Centenary year of the discovery of insulin for the treatment of diabetes. By creating a mosaic from used insulin syringes, I successfully achieved this goal. The installation is a thoughtful portrait of the scientist. The nostalgic landscape of Kaunas invites you to come closer and to think about people with diabetes, and to remember Minkowski, who gave them a chance to live. Furthermore, I stayed true to my style of using waste as a medium for my work, proving once again that trash can be treasure.

The used insulin syringes represent the background of the sky and the river of Nemunas. I chose light gray syringes for the sky, because these tones are very close to the natural colour of the sky in Lithuania. It also symbolises the sad aspect of Minkowski’s’ life – his exile from his native country. The flow of the river was created using light blue, dark blue and grey syringes. In total, 4,000 used insulin syringes were utilised to create this installation.

Looking at the cityscape of Kaunas, the painted sections reflect the pontoon bridge linking Aleksotas to the Old Town of Kaunas. Until 1914, temporary bridges were built in this place. I improvised the colors of the buildings of the old town, because the images in the surviving photos are mostly black and white.

The collage for Oskar Minkowski is a record for future generations celebrating a prominent and significant scientist, not only in Lithuania, but throughout the world.