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Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Art of the North: Sami Art, Global Biennale

Article by: Stella Cowey

A Uniquely Located Museum

High up at the north of the Gulf of Bothnia, straddling the Swedish-Finnish border, is the twin city of HaparandaTornio. Haparanda belongs to the Swedish side of the border, and Tornio the Finnish. This is a city in which you can ring in the New Year twice in one night, as each constituent of the twin city remains in a different time zone. In the west of Tornio, you will find the Aine Art Museum (Aineen Taidemuseo in Finnish). The location of this museum is unique for several different reasons. First, it is located close to the Arctic circle, as well as being centrally located in the Meänmaa region. Second, it is close to the boundaries of Sápmi, as well as communities of those speaking Sámi languages. And each of these factors has influenced the art showcased in the Aine Art Museum.

Artistic Influences

The three-level museum was opened to the public in 1986, and the building was designed by a local architect named Matti Porkka. The choice of having a local architect design the museum reflects one of the museum’s key principles of focusing on contemporary local art, be that specifically Finnish art or, more generally, northern Nordic art. The Aine Art Museum came to fruition by way of the Aine Fine Art Foundation, and the central collection of the Aine art museum was based on the collection of Eila and Veli Aine, both of whom were central figures in the foundation. The collection comprises works of Finnish visual arts from 1814 to present.

Development and Education Aspects

The museum aims to increase audience development and encourage art education and exposure in the local area. For example, the museum established Muistipolku (‘memory lane’) in 2011 to support those in the community with dementia or other illnesses related to memory and cognition. ‘Memory lane’ is a form of art therapy that aims to activate memory through art, and to encourage conversations surrounding art. Muistipolku also offers guided tours of the museum for participants. The museum, along with its fellow art museums in Kemi and Rovaniemi, have been greatly important for Sámi art, as it provides Sámi artists with representation in a more official context, a more internationally recognised context.

Art in The Local Area

Aine Art Museum is integral to art within the local area. It is involved in several art events in the region, perhaps the most prominent being the Luleå biennale, which is technically a Swedish event, but, due to the nature of this twin city linking both sides of the border so closely, the Finnish side plays a part too. The landscape of the area is a tenet of the biennale, a source of great inspiration and a grounding for many of the artists involved. In recent years, the biennale has spread over the region of Norrbotten, in which Luleå is situated, and across the border into Finland. The Aine Art Museum was particularly involved in hosting the 2022 biennale, where it provided exhibition spaces for artists, and there will be opportunity to play an even bigger role in the 2024 biennale.

An Array of Exhibitions

In addition to the permanent collection of Eila and Vela Aine, the museum holds temporary exhibitions too. Currently, the temporary exhibition focuses on the work of disabled and sign-speaking artists who create through different techniques and media. The subject matter of the pieces included deal mostly with the environment and atmosphere of the Torne valley, in which Tornio is located. Typically, this area would be considered a difficult place for the artists to have their voices heard, or for them to be recognised, due to their disabilities and the nature of the art scene in the north still being on the global periphery. This exhibition is called Tilaa taiteilijuuteen (‘Space for Artistry’) and is running until late May.

Keep it Focused

Fokus’, another ongoing exhibition within the museum, presents the works of Ilta Sorro (1911-2006) a painter from Karvia, who relocated further north to Rovaniemi, considered the capital of northern Finland. This posthumous exhibition presents Sorro’s work from the 1970s and presents her paintings of ‘the peaceful arctic’: sweeping expanses, nostalgic scenes, and vast landscapes of muted palettes, all inspired by the artist’s homeland. The subject matter deals specifically with landscapes, without interruption from wildlife or human activity in the compositions – further emphasising the barrenness that Sorro wished to convey.  Sorro was also a founding member of the collective of Lapland artists Palas (palas meaning ‘a small path’ or ‘alley’ in the Sámi language). This was an important community for artists of all levels (amateur/practising) in the Finnish north, organising classes and encouraging community among artists. That Sorro is now being recognised in a solo exhibition highlights the museum’s keenness to present a holistic view of northern art, while emphasising Sorro’s importance in such a community.

Following these exhibitions, is the upcoming exhibition of the work of Ilkka Juhani Takalo-Eskola. A local artist from Keminmaa, a municipality close to Tornio, Takalo-Eskola was originally a poet and writer until he became more interested in the visual arts in the 1970s. He got involved with the Elonkorjaajat collective, who combined photography, painting, poetry, sound, and object art. Stylistically, their work as a collective is perhaps more minimalist than Takalo-Eskola’s work, though this was crucial in him finding his own visual voice. This exhibition runs from early June to early August and demonstrates the museum’s wide range of art on offer to view.

A Fascinating Place to Visit

Aine Art Museum has become something of a beacon for art in the high north of Finland, with its influence and importance transcending the border into Sweden. It provides a voice for northern artists, who may otherwise struggle to be recognised or represented in an official gallery setting. Importantly, it raises the voices of indigenous artists, exhibiting Sámi art and the work of Sámi artists. 

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