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


Villa Karo in May

One more month before it’s time for the last scholarship holders to leave Villa Karo’s residency and return to Finland. It’s been a good year with, as usual, many moments of happiness and times of being lost in translation, cultural faux-pas’ and moments of mutual understanding in Villa Karo. But it’s not the end of the year yet! Here’s what’s happening in the times to come.

This year’s second last sholarship holder translator, researcher Simo Määttä will reach Grand-Popo by the time I post this writing. He’ll be working at the residency for five weeks with a research project before coming back to Finland. Beninese painter Yves Midahuen, the last scholarship holder of this year, will arrive in Villa Karo on the 4th of May and stay there for four weeks. At the end of his stay he’ll put on an exhibition in Villa Karo’s Lissa Gbassa for the month of June. It’ll be this springs third and final exhibition in Villa Karo.

Fisher men by Yves Midahuen

Teni-Tedji, a marionette group, will be holding a workshop in Villa Karo for the children of Grand-Popo on the first weekend of May. We shall get back to you about this with pictures.

Villa Karo’s own multitalented board member Anna Ovaska and curator Tintti Timonen will be working on a new museum exhibition in Villa Karo’s museum during the month of May. The exhibition will open in September of this year to the people of Grand-Popo, scholarship holders and passing tourists. At the same time Anna will be laying down the foundations of Villa Karo’s upcoming first virtual exhibition. Yes, you heard me right! You’ll get to see what Villa Karo’s collections and the new exhibition has to offer even if you aren’t able to go and see by yourself! At the same time, hopefully, VK’s homepage’s appearance and content will be finally updated. The project is trarting now and will be finished by the end of the year.

But not all upcoming events are taking place in Benin. The 2nd of June Villa Karo will take part in a festival that will take place at Narinkkatori, in Helsinki. The other organisers are Walter ry, radio SPIN FM, 09 Helsinki Human Rights, Namika, Funk on ry and FIDA among others. We’ll have there our former scholarship holder Camilla Heidenberg performing and holding a workshop with her husband Georges Agbazahou. Also five artists affiliated with VK will take part in charity event with five graffiti painters. A big plate of street culture and sports with a flavouring of Villa Karo will be offered to you on Narinkkatori that day.

During the months of summer, although it’s quiet in VK, we’ll have a big piece of the centre’s heart here in Finland with us as VK’s director Kwassi has kindly agreed to lend us here our chère Georgette and cher Richard from VK. They will come here in July to meet friends and acquaint and learn from their Finnish colleagues in August. Welcome Georgette and Riku!

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