6296 Kilometers up North

Being in Finland doesn’t necessarily mean being so far away from Villa Karo, Grand-Popo and Benin. This was noticed again yesterday, when Helsingin Juhlaviikkoklubi was filled with people who came to listen Beninese musician Alpha Omega singing and playing djembes and balafon. Familiar African rhythms and songs filled the club of the National Theater and in the end people were dancing as if they were in the coast of Golfe de Guinée, sand in their feet and warm wind blowing in the air. If we Finns are like jars with their lids still tightly closed, as Alpha had said (and we are, I completely agree), music and dance are most likely the best ways to open up those jars. And now, when autumn, winter and cold are approaching, it is good to gain energy through art and exchange of cultures – to be ever more able to open up to others.

The dialogue between Benin and Finland can be experienced right now also in Kiasma in the works of Romuald Hazoume and Georges Adéagbo who have been invited to participate in the Ars 2011 exhibition.

Last time I saw Hazoume’s work, I was in Porto Novo, where Hazoume’s recycled statues of petrol canisters stand in the yard of the palace of King Toffa (now Musée Honme) and tell the story of modernization, changes in environment and in traditions.  In Kiasma Hazoume exhibits his recycled masks and a large snake made of used tyres. Snakes are considered holy in Benin, and the idea is, that they don’t harm people unless they are harmed. The same philosophy expands to technology and markets, which are neither good nor bad in essence, but whose use is becoming more and more problematic all over the world.

In another room in Kiasma, Georges Adéagbo forms a dialogue between political histories of Benin and Finland. A room-sized collage consists of objects Adéagbo has collected in both countries, from fetish-statues to books and newspapers. To those, who happened to be in Benin last spring, familiar objects include the electoral poster of Yayi Boni, the president of Benin, and also a page of a report of an art workshop which took place in Villa Karo in January and was lead by Finnish-Beninese group of artists and art educators (Pekka Lehtimäki, Victor Amoussou and Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou, see Ateneum).

As it happens, also Victor Amoussou’s and Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou’s work can be seen soon in Finland, when their exhibition opens on 3rd September in Hämeenlinna. Like Hazoume’s, Amoussou’s work treats the subjects of modernization and change. His perspective is optimistic and two-fold: looking back to the traditions and history and trying to build bridges in time and between cultures. His animistic and environmental ethics is well visible in his work, as well as his ability to form a dialogue between African and European traditions and philosophies and make the connections more intelligible.

Anna Ovaska

Alpha Omega playing with Georges Agbazahou at Juhlaviikkoklubi, Helsinki. Photo by Pekka Lehtimäki.