Press Release “ELLENDÄN – Turn of the Ornament”

ELLENDÄN – Turn of the Ornament

I made a field trip to areas in Karelia that now belong or have belonged to Finland and regions that have never been part of the Finnish state. During the tour I searched for stains, recording their shapes. Based on this collection, I developed an ornamental painting series. The series´ composition relates to the collection areas’ traditional handicraft, overshot patterns woven with red yarn.

I refer to Karelianess, which has been perceived as a problem in Finland, the Soviet Union and Russia. In Finland Orthodox Border Karelians were not compatible with the main culture because of their language, religion and traditions. In her book Silent and being forced to be silent: Karelian-speaking Karelians in Finland (2017, SKS) Professor Anneli Sarhimaa sums up the Karelian language:

“For more than half a century, the second world war established the Karelian language the exact role in Finnish society as the spirit of nationalism during autonomy and especially goal-orientatedly in the 1920s and 1930s had already been shooting for: an effectively to the background pushed and silenced language that should disappear with little sound and enrich Finnishness in the form of dialectic literature and archival materials.” (Translated)

In the art world, political Karelianism picked up the right elements from Karelian culture to its ideology, ignoring the characteristics of Karelian culture which were perceived as too eastern, even unclean. After the civil war of 1918, the design language of the Orthodox church architecture, which was seen as a Russian remnant, began facing heavy changes. Even long after the wars, an enemy was seen in the Karelian Orthodox population and its` culture was not particularly wanted. Many Karelians have changed their names to Finnish ones at different times because of their foreign origin. There is research data on discrimination up to the 1980s.

The Soviet actions against the Karelians were very disastrous on both sides of the border, and Russia cannot be said to have made much effort to repair these traces. Overall, it could be seen that Karelians were squeezed between two opposing ideals.

Karelian language is a native language and the closest related language to Finnish. Karelian has been spoken in historical Finland for as long as Finnish. It is estimated that there are about 11 000 well-speaking people in Finland, with around 30 000 members of the language community. The language is seriously endangered. Despite this, the Karelian has not been granted a legal status, which has been given to Sámi and sign languages and to the Romani language.

Karelian language and culture began to be revived at the beginning of the 21st century, when linguistic research also began to intensify. The community also includes Karelians who moved from the Republic of Karelia to Finland, some of them researchers.

Ellendän (I understand) was the first Karelian word I learned as a child from my Karelian mother. The assimilation of Karelians into the Finnish society has been a heartbreaking chain of events, although from time to time the reasons for the annulment can be understood. However, I do not accept the fact that the history of an entire section of the population is not even taught in schools. And how is our art history understood — with or without Karelian culture? Our historical consciousness is thereby lacking.

My Karelian ornament is driven by hatred and shame, but so is love and trust. The ornament calls for the lavish; nothing is in vain for it. It gives space to the continuous, a place to one without it.

Hanna Kemppi Kielletty kupoli, avattu alttari: Venäläisyyden häivyttäminen Suomen ortodoksisesta kirkkoarkkitehtuurista 1918–1939 (2016, Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys)
Anneli Sarhimaa Vaietut ja vaiennetut – Karjalankieliset karjalaiset Suomessa (2017, SKS)
Šulkkuni sanaine. Kirjoituksia karjalasta ja vähemmistökielistä (KSS, 2022)