I Had Nowhere to Go
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by Jonas Mekas
Legendary filmmaker Jonas Mekas actually came to filmmaking relatively late in life, and his path to New York was a difficult one. In 1944, Mekas and his younger brother Adolfas had to flee Lithuania. They were interned for eight months in a labor camp in Elmshorn. Even after the war ended, Mekas was prevented from returning to his native Lithuania by the Soviet occupation. Classed as a “displaced person,” he lived in DP camps in Wiesbaden and Kassel for years. It was only at the end of 1949 that Jonas and Aldolfas Mekas finally found their way to New York City.
A new edition of Mekas’ acclaimed memoir, first published by Black Thistle Press in 1991, I Had Nowhere to Go tells the story of the artist’s survival in the camps and his first years as a young Lithuanian immigrant in New York City. Mekas’ memoir―the inspiration for a 2016 biopic by Douglas Gordon―tells the story of how an individual life can move through the larger 20th-century narratives of war and exile and tentatively put down new roots. In the words of Phillip Lopate, “This is a lyrical, essential spiritual anthropology.”
The exhibition "Jonas Mekas: The Camera Was Always Running" was on view at the Jewish Museum from February 18 to June 5, 2022. The Jewish Museum presented the first U.S. museum survey of the Lithuanian-born filmmaker, poet, critic, and institution-builder who helped shape the avant-garde in New York City and beyond.