New Exhibition in the Petit musée de la Villa Karo!

May was a month of hard work as we renewed the exhibition of the Petit musée in Villa Karo, and here it is! Ready to welcome visitors right away when Villa Karo opens it’s doors again in the end of August!

Tintti Timonen and I did the design based on Soile Rinno‘s prior exhibitions; carpenters and painters repaired the interior and the furniture designed by Tina Lotila for the first exhibition in 2002; and finally together with Georgette Singbe, Wiktoriina Hurskainen and Boniface Gossou we arranged the objects in their right places. If you’re not in Benin right now, take a look at the “musée” through the photos below!

The whole Vodun room with it’s fetishes and statues. Click to see the larger image, and click again to zoom.

Fetishes and assins (altars) in the Vodun room, the left corner from the entrance.

Left wall of the Vodun room, with an evil fetish (above) and a fetish from a sacred forest (below). The text says: “Vodun is an animistic religion, whose followers believe that nature consists of deities and spirits touching their lives. The religion has its roots in coastal West Africa and from there it travelled with slaves to the Caribbean and to Brazil.
At its heart Vodun is an everyday, social and comprehensive religion and world view, based on reciprocity, reverence for nature and mutual assistance between deities, spirits, the living and the dead.
Fa is the spirit that works as a mediator between the people and the deities. Its message is interpreted by Bokono, diviner of Fa, and the readings are executed by Vodun priests and priestesses in different ceremonies.
Colonialism, mission, political persecution and modernization have all threatened the survival of Vodun. Its nature is flexible and open to influences, the religion continually adjusts to new challenges and its position is nowadays officially recognized, especially in Benin where it is a state religion.
Fetishes are objects of some special innate power, made for many different purposes and closely connected to the Vodun religion. After a divination they embody the force of a god and are used for example for protection or as good luck charms. Some fetish objects may be placed on home altars to promote their owner’s well-being, while other ones may travel in the pockets of travelers, protecting them on their way.

The upper left corner of the Vodun room shows fertility statues from West Africa, for example from the Ashanti, Fanti and the Baoulé cultures in Ghana and Côte-d’Ivoire.

Marriage, pregnancy, birth, divorce, death… all represented through the fetish statues. Akuaba, an Ashanti girl who is unable to have a child, is perhaps the most well known (aloft).

Hounon, fetish priest of Heviosso, guards the Petit musée across the entrance. On his left side is the fetish of Ogun, the God of Iron and on his right side a fetish with bull’s horns on his back.

Fetish statues of the Goddess of Mami Wata, God of Water, right side of the Vodun room.
In Vodun religion the universe is divided into five basic elements: water, fire, earth, air and sky. In their own way each Vodun deity represents one of these elements. The Supreme God, the creator of the universe is called Mawu. The names and meanings of the hundreds of deities may vary from one community to another, but certain deities, such as Mami Wata, recur.
The vibrant water goddess has drawn influences from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, as well as from Buddhism. Some characteristics of Mami Wata may also have been taken from the mermaid figureheads adorning the ships that brought the first Europeans to Africa, but for example the Dogon culture of Mali and Burkina Faso told tales of mermaids and mermen as early as 4000 years ago. Mami Wata guarantees her followers speedy success, riches, good luck and good health. The goddess, who is often characterized as jealous, is known to show herself every now and then to true believers, in the light of the full moon.
Other important Vodun deity Heviosso, also known as Shango among the Yoruba people, represents the air being the god of thunder. The red color associated with Heviosso/Shango is considered to be holy. For example the boat fetishes from the fishing village Ada in Ghana often include the double-sided axe of Shango as the symbol of thunder. The owner of the fetish gains strength and Shango is prevailed upon to calm the sea winds.

The left side of the History room presents the slave trade with statuettes and a picture of Francisco de Souza, a slave trader who lived in Ouidah and visited also Grand-Popo – giving the town it’s name.
The Portuguese were the first to settle on what later was called the Slave Coast: the coast of today’s Togo, Benin and western Nigeria. Town of Ouidah, 45 kilometers from Grand-Popo, became center of West African slave trade. In the 18th century Ouidah had five European fortresses: English, French, Portuguese, Dutch and Danish. The beach of Ouidah became a “gate of no return” to hundred thousands, even millions of people.
Slave trade was approved in Dahomey and the kings sold their own countrymen and war prisoners as slaves. In return they got weapons, precious metals and luxury objects. King Agadja’s emblem even depicted a slave ship: to represent the prosperity slave trade brought to the kingdom.
The first slavery abolishment acts were given already in the 18th century, but the slave trade was profitable up to the 1860’s. Most of the slaves were sold to the coffee- and sugar plantations in Brazil. About 20 million Africans were victims of the trade while it was going on. Maybe only half of the sold slaves arrived alive to the new continent. Today the African diaspora is commemorated for example during the annual Vodun-festivities in Benin, every 10th January.

Colon statuettes welcome the visitors to the history room, across the entrance. “The colonization of Benin (then Dahomey) began in 1889, when France took over the country after winning a war against its last independent ruler, king Gbehanzin. Other French colonies in West Africa were Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger. France also ruled large areas in other parts of Africa.
French colonial administration hired locals to work in the government, and “colon” statues represent the local people dressed in European uniforms and clothes. Today colons are sold everywhere in West Africa as souvenirs.
Independence movements started to grow stronger in different parts of the continent in the 1950’s and most French colonies became independent in 1960 or soon after. Dahomey gained independence from France finally in 1960 and it was renamed Benin in 1974.

The upper right corner of the history room.

Old kingdoms of West-Africa are represented by the bronze statues from old Benin (area in today’s Nigeria), kings’ staffs and an application work of the twelve kings of Dahomey (modern Benin).
The history of Benin is a succession of several kingdoms and cultures. The Fon king of Abomey subdued the surrounding countries and formed the kingdom of Dahomey in 1625. It then became the most powerful kingdom in the area, fighting wars for example against the Oyo Empire (in today’s Porto Novo) and the Kingdom of Whydah (Ouidah).
Other powerful kingdoms in West Africa were the Ashanti kingdom in modern day Ghana, and the Benin Empire of Edo culture, which formed the origins of modern Nigeria. Today kings don’t hold political power, but they have important positions in communities.

The right side of the history room


Tulevia tapahtumia Suomessa / Upcoming Events in Finland: Helsinki Street Festival & Bridge IV (by Victor Amoussou & Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou)

Tänä lauantaina kannattaa suunnata Narinkkatorille kello 13 alkaen! Helsinki Street Festival -tapahtumaan nimittäin osallistuu paljon villakarolaisia: World Music System eli Georges Agbazahou, Camilla Heidenberg, Faride Lala, Jeanette Heidenberg ja Sara Estlander esittävät musiikkia, tanssia sekä pitävät työpajoja. Graffitikilpailussa mukana ovat puolestaan Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou, Victor Amoussou ja Anu Nirkko!

Ja ensi viikon tiistaina 5.6. avautuu lisäksi Victor Amoussoun ja Leea Pienimäki-Amoussoun näyttely SILTA / BRIDGE / PASSERELLE IV: Hwénouho (Auringon puhe / The Talk of the Sun / La parole du soleil) Rööperin taidesalongissa. Avajaiset ovat tiistaina klo 17-19 ja näyttely on avoinna heinäkuun alkuun saakka. Tervetuloa!

Kutsu / Invitation to SILTA / BRIDGE / PASSERELLE IV

Welcome to Narinkkatori, Helsinki, next Saturday at 1pm and after: Villa Karo -people will be performing at Helsinki Street Festival! Georges Agbazahou, Camilla Heidenberg, Faride Lala, Jeanette Heidenberg ja Sara Estlander will be playing music, singing, dancing and organizing workshops as World Music System. And Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou, Victor Amoussou and Anu Nirkko will be participating in graffiti contest!

Victor Amoussou and Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou will also be opening their new exhibition at Rööperin taidesalonki on Tuesday 5th June from 5 pm to 7 pm. The exhibition will be open until 1st of July and it’s called SILTA / BRIDGE / PASSERELLE IV: Hwénouho (Auringon puhe / The Talk of the Sun / La parole du soleil) . Welcome!

Nonvitcha Week in Grand-Popo

It is Nonvitcha time again and a lot is happening in Grand-Popo and Villa Karo. By now the town is already filled with ex-habitants and their children and their children’s children to celebrate the home area. This year it’s the 91th birthday of home association Nonvitcha.

On Monday Villa Karo had a small celebration as well. Miikka arrived to town and we opened the new museum exhibition: a small opening for the family! Check out the photos below!

Nonvitcha weekend is the last big event of the spring. One concert is coming up and the last scholarship holders, Midy, Ayewa and Simo, continue their work for a few days. After that it’s time for the summer maintenance.

I got back to Finland yesterday and am missing Villa Karo and Grand-Popo already. Wishing everybody bonne fête de Nonvitcha et joyeux dimanche de Pentecôte!

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On God’s Bits of Wood / Jumalan puupalikoista

The exhibition at Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki brings vodun-objects to a Finnish cultural milieu – and crosses borders between cultures and religions, art and non-art, magical and common. They are objects in-between, I write in my post about the exhibition based on Juha Vakkuri’s and Matti-Juhani Karila’s collections. The exhibition, “Mami Wata and God’s Bits of Wood”, will be open until 30.1.2012 and Juha will be giving a tour of his collection on 29th January at 12.00. The national Voodoo Day will be celebrated in Benin on 10th January.

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Wooden Fishermen's Fetishes from Ada Tribe, Ghana in exhibition at Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki. Collection from Juha Vakkuri, the exhibition curated by Tintti Timonen.

Länsi-Afrikassa yleiset, voodoo-uskontoon liittyvät fetissinuket tuovat mieleeni ajatuksen vieraudesta ja outoudesta, joka on kuitenkin samaan aikaan kovin arkista ja kotoisaa. Freud puhui ilmiöstä (eurooppalaisessa kontekstissa) nimellä unheimlich, kammottava, viitaten aiemmin tuttuun, josta on tullut salattua ja siksi samalla pelottavaa. Nuket ovat minulle “outoja” siksi, että ne ovat maagisia: niillä on ihmisten mielissä yhteys toiseen todellisuuteen. Ne edustavat tuonpuoleisia voimia tässä todellisuudessa, tarjoavat sillan tämän ja tuntemattoman välille. Toisin kuin unheimlich:in tapauksessa, fetissin edustamaa vierautta ja toiseutta ei kuitenkaan voodoo-uskonnossa torjuta vaan pyritään hyväksymään se osana elämää. Sana vodun viittaa siihen, mikä on mystistä, tuntematonta, ja siksi arvostettua, pyhää.

Georgette Singbe, joka vastaa Villa Karon pienoismuseosta Grand-Popossa toteaa usein, että näyttelyssä esineillä ei enää ole niiden maagista voimaa. Ne on irrotettu kontekstistaan – arjesta, jonka osana uskontoa harjoitetaan. Jotakin tuosta voimasta on kuitenkin jäljellä – ainakin sekulaarissa mielessä – myös Amos Andersonin taidemuseon ylimmän kerroksen näyttelyssä. Esineiden tarinat kulkevat kulttuurista, kontekstista ja miljööstä toiseen.

Fetissinuket ovatkin rajaesineitä monessa eri merkityksessä. Taidemuseossa näytteillä ollessaan ne ovat taiteen ja ei-taiteen rajoja koettelevaa arjen taidetta. Voodoo-esineinä ne ovat maagisen ja ei-maagisen rajoja rikkovaa uskonnollista esineistöä. Ja nyt täällä Suomessa ne ovat objekteja, jotka tasapainoilevat kulttuurien ja uskontokuntien rajoilla.

Fetissien mukanaan kuljettama animistinen ajattelu ei ole kuitenkaan täysin vierasta suomalaiselle mielelle. Tarinat esimerkiksi metsän väestä, Tapiosta, Mielikistä ja Vellamosta, ovat meille tuttuja satujen ja kansanrunouden kautta mutta samalla hyvinkin läheistä, 1900-luvun puolelle ulottuvaa kansanperinnettä. Siinä missä suomalaisissa traditioissa painottuvat metsä ja sen maagiset piirteet, on Länsi-Afrikassa merellä tärkeä asema. Jos metsä edusti suomalaisille tuonpuoleista, muistuttaa meri Guineanlahden asukkaille toiseudesta, johon on suhtauduttava kunnioituksella: niin elanto kuin myös elämä ovat riippuvaisia suhteesta mereen.

"The Serpent Priestess" (ca. 1926) by German artist Schleisinger is often displayed as a popular image of Mami Wata in Africa and in the Diaspora. Credit:

Amos Andersonin näyttelyssä voi havaita, että ghanalaisten Adojen veistoksilta puuttuu raajoja. Näin voidaan suojautua haiden hyökkäyksiltä ja muilta kalastajia uhkaavilta vaaroilta: fetissi on jo luovuttanut kätensä tai jalkansa merelle, eikä kalastajan tarvitse pelätä.

Mami Wata -veistokset ja -maalaukset puolestaan kunnioittavat vedenjumalaa (”Mami Water”), jolla on usein eurooppalaisen merenneidon piirteet ja joka kantaa mukanaan tärkeitä voodoo-symboleita. Käärmeet kertovat voimasta ja luovat sillan tämän- ja tuonpuoleisen välillä. Joskus Mami Wata kannattelee suurta munaa, joka representoi elämää. Kauri-simpukat ja niiden muodot symboloivat rahaa ja vaurautta, ja usein toistuva kolmipäisyys on puolestaan merkki Mami Watan androgyynistä Denzu-muodosta. Mami Wata on voimakas jumala, joka tarjoaa onnea ja hyvinvointia kannattajilleen. Hänen merkkiensä alla syntyneet voivat olla varmoja menestyksestään elämässä – mutta vain jos heillä on puhdas sydän.

Beniniläinen kirjailija, sosiologi Dominique Aguessy on kuvannut osuvasti voodoo-uskonnon tarjoamia mahdollisuuksia käsitellä elämän ja olemassaolon vaikeita kysymyksiä tarinoiden ja symbolien kautta:

Le travail sur l’imaginaire et les symboles est encore plus vital si l’on veut encourager l’individu et les groupes humaines à retrouver une cohérence interiéure ou interne, de façon à être plus à même de vivre en paix avec ses voisins et en harmonie avec le reste du monde. (Contes du Bénin: L’oracle du Hibou, 2004.)

Lyhyesti suomentaen, Aguessylle voodoon tarkoituksena on tarjota itseymmärrystä ja siten mahdollisuuksia rakentaa eettisiä suhteita toisiin ihmisiin ja koko maailmaan.

Täällä vielä pieni kurkistus Fondation Cartierissa Pariisissa maalis-syyskuussa 2011 järjestettyyn näyttelyyn Vaudou.

Afrikka vierailee taas Helsingissä / Africa visits Helsinki again

Afrikka-aiheinen Ars11 päättyi eilen, mutta helsinkiläiset saavat joulukuuksi peräti kaksi uutta Afrikkaa sivuavaa tai käsittelevää näyttelyä.

3. joulukuuta Villa Karon kevään 2011 stipendiaatti Antti Seppänen avaa Beninissä ja lähimaissa kuvaamaansa video- ja valokuvamateriaalia esittävän näyttelyn galleria Volgassa. Unien portit -nimeä kantava näyttely pujahtaa taiteilijan omiin uniin:

”Joku voisi väittää että kuvat olisi voinut lavastaa ja kuvata missä hyvänsä. Kuitenkaan kokemusta joka nämä näyt synnytti, ei olisi voinut lavastaa. Ehkä minun ei Afrikassa tarvinnut nähdä unia öisin, aika hereillä oli liian vahvaa. Mutta olinko sittenkään Afrikassa? En ole ihan varma. Nämä kuvat ovat portteja uniini. Ota avain ja astu sisään, ole hyvä.” – Antti Seppänen

Viettely - Seduction by Antti Seppänen.

2. joulukuuta avautuu Amos Andersonin taidemuseossa Mami Wata ja jumalan puupalikat -niminen näyttely. Se on kahden Villa Karon ystäville tutun keräilijän vuosien työn tulos. Juha Vakkuri ja Matti-Juhani Karila ovat tahoillaan keränneet mittavan kokoelman afrikkalaista taidetta monilla matkoillaan ympäri mannerta. Näistä esineistä koostuvan näyttelyn on koostanut kuraattori Tintti Timonen.

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This week is a real treat for friends of  West African art and culture living near Helsinki as two different exhibitions will be opening.

Villa Karo’s last spring’s scholarship holder, filmmaker Antti Seppänen will have an exhibition in Galleria Volga focusing on video footage and photographs depicting his dreamful experiences in West Africa.

In Amos Anderson museum will take place an exhibition presenting the works of two African art gatherers well known by friends of Villa Karo: Juha Vakkuri and Matti-Juhani Karila. Along with curator Tintti Timonen the two gentlemen are putting on display their favourite pieces, sacred and profane, collected from numerous travels in Africa.

Antti Seppänen : “Unien Portit” / “The Gates of Dreams”
3rd-23rd December
Galleria Volga
Museokatu 34
00100 Helsinki

Karila&Vakkuri: “Mami Wata ja jumalan puupalikat”
2nd December – 30th January
Amos Andersonin taidemuseo
Yrjönkatu 27
Helsinki 00100

Look at me! The enchantment of photographs

Text by Matti-Juhani Karila (translated and abbreviated by Anna Ovaska)

I am not a photographer, but I’ve gotten hooked on the mysterious enchantment of photos – on this “one-hundredth part of a second which makes a blink of an eye eternal”, as American poet Hart Grane described the essence of photography in 1923.

I can’t imagine that any of you who read this article would travel to Africa without a camera, not even painters whose predecessors in the 19th century were worried that photography would someday perhaps displace the images made by hand. Digital cameras have destroyed some of the charm of photographs, but much of it is still left. Something of its innermost, original essence is alive today, and this is what I have tried to capture in the three exhibitions I have curated in Villa Karo, Grand-Popo between 2007 and 2011.

Whatever the limitations (through amateurism) or pretensions (through artistry) of an individual photographer, a photograph – any photograph – seems to have a more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other mimetic objects. (Susan Sontag 1977, 3.)

One can of course aggravate and say that photos are not true. Negatives have been manipulated since photography was born. As early as in 1855 a German photographer shocked the audience in the World’s Fair held in Paris by showing two versions of one single photo: the original and the revised. He had developed a technique to modify negatives – to modify the truth. And as Susan Sontag has written: “News about the camera’s ability to lie made portraits even more popular. People wanted to get ideal pictures of themselves: photos of them at their best.

The thought of a three-part series of exhibitions in Grand Popo was born in 2007 when I built together with Stefan Bremer an exhibition called “Les témoignages du passé – Evidence from the Past”. I had collected about hundred enlarged postal cards from the colonial Africa. Pictures were taken by white colonists and their theme was “African people”. They show how nothing can replace the power of photographs as interpreters of the past (even if they are manipulated and modified) – maybe only objects in museums and their stories can bear the same value. I had collected the images from my own collections and from other collectors’ collections, from the archives of Finnish Missionary Society and from the huge Unesco archives. “Les témoignages” covered a period of time from the end of 19th century to the middle of 20th century.

It is nostalgic time right now, and photographs actively promote nostalgia. Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. — Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” (Susan Sontag 1977, 11.)

Camera can also be used to emphasize the reality. A photograph is indisputable evidence that something has happened. Photographs can distort reality, but they also show that something, something that resembles the picture, has once existed.

After the independency of African countries, a lot of know-how brought by the white people disappeared as the former colonizers withdrew themselves back to Europe. But some things remained. The idea of making photographs stayed and African photo studios were created. From these treasures I collected the other exhibition to Grand-Popo in 2009. I don’t know any of the people in these studio photos, but I sense the importance of those moments which “make one-hundredth of a second eternal”. People rarely smile in these portraits, they are dressed up, they look directly to camera. The photos in the series cover time from mid of 20th century to the end of the millennium; portraits of African families taken by Africans.

Those ghostly traces, photographs, supply the token presence of the dispersed relatives. A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family – and, often, is all that remains of it. (Susan Sontag 1977, 6.)

Antti Seppänen 2011 "Il était une fois en Afrique"

Regarde-moi! – Look at me!” is a logical continuation to these two earlier exhibitions. I have asked fourteen Finnish photographers to collect series from the photos they have taken in West-Africa in the first decade of the millennium. The working titles of these series anticipate an interesting ensemble: “Market days”, “Coups d’oeil”, “Street style”, “Friends”, “The Day of the School Uniform”, “They are”…

Photographers Stefan Bremer, Kari Hakli, Tuula Heinilä, Tapio Heikkilä, Sade Kahra, Jari Kivelä, Tuija Kuusela, Anu Nirkko, Lauri Nykopp, Joona Pettersson, Laura Pörsti, Cecilia Rosenlew, Antti Seppänen and Adolfo Vera have promised to participate in the exhibition. The exhibition will be opened in the mid-October 2011 and it will last until February 2012.

It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience itself into a way of seeing. Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participation in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form. That most logical of nineteenth-century aesthetes, Mallarmé, said that everything in the world exists in order to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a photograph. (Susan Sontag 1977, 18–19.)

Matti-Juhani Karila

Excerpts from Susan Sontag’s collection of essays On Photography (1977)

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.