Category: Art

Existential Train Journeys

… A glimpse into the Russian soul

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Monotonous landscapes. Crossword puzzles and trashy Harlequin novels. Endless black tea and discarded bowls of pre-cooked noodles.

Train travelling in Russia takes its time, the carriages drifting slowly across the never ending tundras like afternoon cumulus. Along the way we stop in small, cheerless towns with names one rarely remembers, where the local people scrape a shabby income from selling homemade dumplings and other foods to passengers on the platforms.

For most Russians, journeying by train remains the only affordable option.

People are polite but not overly social—somewhat jarring for the foreigner hoping to prod the occasional social interaction, perhaps over a pocket-size bottle of vodka and some zakuska. Only a rare few engage in conversations with fellow passengers whilst the majority of the wagon prefers to be left alone in their private worlds, a mental substitute for actual personal space. Weary babushkas take to their shaded bunks.

As I wake from a short night’s sleep, the new sun reaching at the horizon, it occurs to me that the Russian soul is a romantic one. Some passengers spend their time day-dreaming, while others either huddle over crossword puzzles and women’s magazines, or abandon their kiosk wares entirely to stare pensively out across the passing landscapes imagining perhaps alternative realities in some parallel dimensions.

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“Untrue Finns” Exhibition in Murmansk

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The cultural festival of “Barents Bird” was organised in Murmansk, northern Russia in April 2016. I was invited to participate in the festival program and bring my exhibition the Untrue Finns to the northern city of Murmansk. I was both honoured and delighted to participate in this buzzing international event that brought together artists, including musicians, painters and photographers. As Murmansk is reachable by train, I decided to take the “scenic route” by travelling by train first from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg and later on via the coasts of the White Sea all the way to the Nordic port city of Murmansk. (I’ll post some travel shots in a later blog post).

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My exhibition, the Untrue Finns, is about people and their personal connection to Finland. I shot portraits of people from various immigrant backgrounds, who live in Finland and paired each portrait with a landscape that somehow describes the person’s relation to Finland. Nevertheless, the exhibition was also about criticising the stereotypical image of a Finnish identity. I wanted to portray the diversity and complexity of a personal identity also taking into consideration the fact that there seem to be instances who feel self-righteously in the position of defining who is a Finn and who is not. The arbitrary and unfair separation between the “true” or “real” and “untrue” or “unreal”. Hence, the name untrue Finns, which is a reference to the original English name of the populist right-wing party Finns (Perussuomalaiset in Finnish) formerly known as the True Finns.

I had two days to get everything ready for the exhibition – including getting the prints done and plan how to put up my work. The exhibition was organised in the local cultural palace DK Kirova, an old spacious, beautiful building situated right in the centre of the city. I received plenty of help with practical matters from the staff of the Finnish consulate in Murmansk, who had also promoted the event in the local media alongside with the festival organisation.

As the opening of the exhibition drew closer, my heart started racing faster – I was curious and a bit nervous to see what kind of a reaction my somewhat controversial thematics would trigger in the local audience. I was more than happy to see that the local audience was enthusiastic and that my thematics and work raised both interest and questions.

Here are some shots from the opening. All photo credits go to Maksim Malyutin of the Zebra crew.

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