Femmes d’Afrique

Milja Viita oli stipendiaattina Villa Karossa viime keväänä ja matkalla sai alkunsa kaksi videoinstallaatiota. Femme d’Afrique on nähtävissä täällä ja Coriolis on esillä Muu-galleriassa Helsingissä ensi viikon sunnuntaihin (eli 4. maaliskuuta) saakka. Suosittelen lämpimästi!

Last spring Milja Viita spent a month in Villa Karo. During the trip two of her new video installations were born. They both depict the lives of African women: everyday lives of women in villages near Grand-Popo and the lives of two sisters who are separated by the distance (and winds!) between Togo and Finland. Preview for “Femme d’Afrique” is available here at Av-arkki.  And “Coriolis” can be seen at Muu-gallery in Helsinki until 4th March 2012. I warmly recommend both!

Milja Viita: Femme d'Afrique (2011)

Molempia teoksia voi luonnehtia poeettisiksi dokumenttielokuviksi. Femme d’Afrique on meille Grand-Popossa asuneille erikoinen kokemus, sillä mustavalkoinen kuva ja kerronnan tyyli muuttavat afrikkalaisen pikkukylän elämän kovin erilaiseksi kuin millaisena se siellä koettuna esittäytyy. Katse on ihan toisenlainen, tarkempi ja viipyilevämpi, intiimimpi, mutta samalla teoksen äänimaailma on tutuista tutuin. Ja vähitellen kuvasta alkaa tunnistaa tuttuja kangaskuoseja, hiekkatienpätkiä, ihmisiäkin. Maailma on sama, tapa nähdä uusi ja erilainen.

Miljan kuvatessa teostaan Ouidahin eräässä museossa oli meneillään Afrikan naisista kertova näyttely. Minulle hyvin mieleen painunut näyttelyteema oli se, miten valtavan määrän erilaisia kotitöitä afrikkalaiset naiset tekevät päivän aikana. Miehillä on vapaa-aikaa, mutta kylien naiset aloittavat päivät kantamalla veden koteihin, ja jatkavat viljelyksillä, kodinhoidolla, lastenhoidolla, ruuanvalmistuksella. Moni myös myy viljelemänsä kasvit tai niistä valmistamansa tuotteet – ja myynti tapahtuu useimmin isoista alumiinivadeista, joita kannetaan päiden päällä. Oikeastaan pään päältä voi ostaa mitä tahansa: savustettuja etanoita, munkkeja, kynsilakkaa, kanan.

Edellisellä Beninin matkallaan myös Milja oli kiinnittänyt huomiota naisten kantamiin taakkoihin – ja toisen residenssimatkan tarkoituksena olikin kuvata teos kantavista naisista. Femme d’Afrique seuraa naisten rutiineja alkaen eräästä aamusta Grand-Popon läheisessä kylässä. Teoksessa myös haastatellaan vanhaa rouvaa, joka kävelee joka aamu Grand-Popon läpi patonkivatia kantaen. Rouva on minullekin tuttu, “Pain chaud”, kuuma leipä.

Milja Viita: Coriolis (2012)

Miljan toinen teos, tuore Coriolis kuvaa kahden sisaruksen elämää lähes 7000 kilometrin päässä toisistaan, kahden eri meren äärellä. Togoon ja Beniniin sijoittuvien osien merenranta on monelle tuttu Villa Karosta – ja sen pohjoinen vastine löytyy Helsingistä. Teosta katsoessani ajattelen etäisyyttä: sisarten välillä, Suomen ja Afrikan välillä, meidän katsojien ja elokuvan sisarten välillä. Tarina Coriolis-ilmiöstä ja tuulista, jotka syntyvät tyttöjen kotiseuduilla ja vaikuttavat tänne pohjoiseen saakka yhdistää sisaret toisiinsa, ja myös katsojan sisariin.

Teoksella on myös erityinen merkitys, kun tiedän miten tärkeitä kaksoset ovat toisilleen Beninissä ja Togossa. Olen kuullut tarinoita, joiden mukaan kaksoset eivät voi matkustaa toiseen maahan toisen tietämättä ja ilman toisen lupaa – matka ei yksinkertaisesti onnistu. Planetaaristen tuulten tavoin kaksosten side kantaa uskomattomien etäisyyksien yli.

Milja Viita: Coriolis (2012)

Milja Viita: Coriolis (2012)

Täällä pieni kurkistus:

COMPUTERS AND INTERNET IN GRAND-POPO

These two words are sufficient to keep alive a generation. Before computer era the world was as natural as ever, post men were happy to ride and distribute mails here and there, ships and planes made brisk business but this was subverted by invention of computer and internet. Western world and industrialized nations rapidly grew with these new technologies that bade farewell to an older generation.

Despite great unemployment created by this innovation, the world seems to be happy. Back in Grand-Popo, the craze by the youth to possess a computer, get connected to the internet for a chat with friends and relatives abroad is felt everywhere. If we comb our memory back to early years of Villa Karo’s operation when Scholarship holders are happy without internet, it was another world of communication when telegrams took days and days to reach Finland. In those days slow connection 28kbs modems were appreciated with modest desk top computers. Inhabitants of Grand-Popo queued up in the Library waiting for messages from Finnish friends (Stipendiates). Downloading and sending mails took irritating hours, a real “corvee” in the past especially when there is an attachment.

Today, it is a different story all together; people of all ages seek for nearest internet café just to get in touch with the outside world. All hotels with internet access are inundated with more clients every weekend even if they are expensive. Internet network companies like MOOV, GLO, KANAKOO and MTN revolutionized the system with MOKKULA services, a system well praised and accepted by all as the only means of internet communication though relatively slow compared to ADSL or WIFI.

In Villa Karo almost all Stipendiates are surfing satisfactorily with MOKKULA in their studios, under the akasia trees or anywhere in the open garden whilst in town, folks seeking for news, students and pupils besiege the two available internet cafes for researches and chatting with friends on facebook.

FUEL CRISIS IN NIGERIA AND ITS REPERCURSIONS ON WEST AFRICA

Economic measures announced by the Nigerian Government to impregnate sanity in public finances also provoked total instability in neighboring countries. On the 9th of January, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced subsidy suspension on petroleum products which resulted in price increase of petrol, a controversial decision taken and aired during a nationwide radio and television broadcast by President Goodluck Jonathan became a point of discord between Nigerian and her population. Few hours later strike action was pronounced by various Nigerians trade unions who unified their forces to force the iron hands of Goodluck Jonathan to revert to the old pump price of N65. The new pump price of N141 was judged too exorbitant by a populous nation of 150,000,000 inhabitants.

This situation rapidly generated panic in countries like Cameroun, Togo and Benin. Artificial scarcity was suddenly created by illegal road side vendors of gasoline. One could openly see these vendors everywhere in Benin, who procure their petroleum products fraudulently from Nigeria through middle men who smuggle them across the borders both by land and sea at a price three times lower than the official pump price thus paralyzing the officially registered petroleum companies in Benin. The strike action negatively affected motorists and nearly crippled some commercial activities throughout the country. Most of these commercial activities between these two sister countries almost came to a standstill as most customers from Nigeria were unable to make the trip across both borders for normal business.

The biggest market in West Africa “Dantokpa” in Cotonou keskusta got paralyzed for days. Motorists thronged one time abandoned Government filling stations to fill their tanks as unauthorized informal street vendors tripled their price per liter to make more profit. Long queues were noticed everywhere, cities most affected were Cotonou, Porto-Novo and Abomey though other cities like Lokossa, Bohicon, Dassa, Natittingou, Comé were also slightly affected. Transport fares tripled, prices of food stuff received sky rocketing shocks and market ladies who normally chant to attract customers became sour and slightly rude to express their disagreement with fares charged by zemidjans and taxis.

For days, Benin felt the importance of Nigeria, as a powerful cum important neighbor. Every home in Benin felt the pinch of the Nigerian strike action as if we are living in Nigeria.

A Lunch Box Full of Identity

It's unbelievable how good quality these old time plastic boxes are. This one's cover still stays on and everything.

This used to be my snack box when I started at the Maternelle of the Ecole de Jeanne d’Arc, in Marseille, as a three-year-old, sometime in September 1986. I know this because the teachers gave each of us kids a special sign before we learned to write and read our names. The sign helped us to recognize our own things among the belongings of 40 or 50 other children. My sign was still visible on the cover of this box up until a few years ago when it finally faded out with time and constant washing.

Over 25 years ago my mother filled this box every morning with apple wedges, a voileipä and Petit Ecolier -cookies that I would eat at snack time with my fellow kindergarden pupils in the school’s yard under a platanus and the Mediterranean sun (Mom, I’ve never thanked you for the snacks, so thank you!). By then I wasn’t called Miikka but Mica (and my family name most certainly wasn’t Pörsti but Poersht or something like that) and I was the only child with blue eyes and parents that spoke to him in a strange language.

By now, Mica is gone and I often wonder what ever happened to him. He and his friends couldn’t come to live with me in Finland a few years later when we turned ten and our family moved back. Although the colour of Mica’s eyes were OK and typical here, he felt just a bit too weird and different to stay with his perhaps slight French accent and different mental scenery. Everything he he knew was from a different world and somehow many, many people didn’t want to hear from it at all. Many kids said it wasn’t true that he hadn’t grown up here and for some reason coming from abroad created aggressive reactions in some people – both adults and children.

In Finland he was simply too much of a stranger – as at that time, in order to be different here, it sufficed that somebody didn‘t know the rules of ice hockey or who Rölli was. Sorry for the exaggeration, but I’m sure you get my point. Today, I often wonder about those who came in or out after Mica and are stranger than him: actual, not hidden immigrants and others who are so easily hated for what they just are by birth or as the outcome of sad circumstances.

But I think Mica just went on hiding. I often have the feeling that he comes back to say hi when I sleep or I‘m tired. He’s always ten and he still counts in French and reads Tintins in the language Hergé wrote them in. He tells me what we used to do when we were kids and how Rémi B. and all the other people we knew are doing back in Marseille, back in time.

This morning, I put my lunch into my red box, as I often do, before going to work. Call me unecological, but as a former missionary kid I thank God for plastic as I don’t know who else to thank for this material that outlasts memories, tears, hellos and goodbyes. Call me sentimental, but for a person whose childhood’s scenes and cast has been wiped off and rewritten so many times as mine, a simple, durable plastic lunch box may become a priceless, personal artifact.

Roots, memories, personal feelings, identity and the public recognition of these elements are crucial in order to survive for all of us, perhaps especially for minority groups – be they hidden, unrecognized, public, strange, difficult to grasp or unpleasant in the eyes of others. None of us can choose where we are born and what we are as a person. Some of us can’t even choose where we grow up, live, how we are treated and what we become.

I wish you all a very happy week on this national Sami people’s day because the celebration of a minority should be a real party for us all. And I hope for the many silent, screaming, weird, singing, disappointed, fanatic or mumbling voices we’ve heard during the past couple of weeks in Finland prior to the presidential election to be taken in account by all of us in the future – not just the voices we recognize, understand, like or approve. There is a message and a desire for a better world behind every statement, no matter how we label the person making it – be he or she fanatic, gay, straight, conservative, demonic, immigrant, humane, patriotic, ignorant or liberal.
PS. Samis? Who are they? Find out here.
Voileipä? What’s that? Oh, that’s a sandwich in Finnish, although we usually don’t put another slice of bread on top of the other as a cover as, i.e., the French and the Beninese do.