Santa Claus talks with three Iraqi asylum seekers, in Rovaniemi in September, 2015. Kaisa Rautaheimo / Helsingin Sanomat
Pop-up photography exhibition “Refugee, evacuee, human” in Helsinki
Q&A with curator Raija Linna (Finnish Press Photo Archives, The Picture Collections of the National Board of Antiquities)
- Refugee, evacuee, human - Pop-Up Photography exhibition National Museum of Finland, Helsinki Through March 6, 2016
The Picture Collections of the National Board of Antiquities presents the Pop-Up photography exhibition “Refugee, evacuee, human”, with photos of refugees, evacuees, immigrants and migrants: people who have arrived in or left Finland over the course of several decades. Most of the photos are from between the 1920s and 1990s. The oldest photographs date back to 1893 and the most recent are from 2015.
The photographs for this exhibition are from the Picture Collections of the National Board of Antiquities and the Finnish Press Photo Archives JOKA. How did the study of these collections and archives take place, and was there anything especially surprising or unexpected that you discovered?
The Picture Collections of Finland’s National Board of Antiquities, together with the Finnish Press Photo Archives JOKA, comprise 15 million images, containing photos created between the 1800s and the present. We soon discovered that our photograph collections cover different stories ofpeople who have arrived in or left Finland during the 20th century. As a matter of fact, the two oldest photographs in the exhibition date back to 1893, when 509 Finnish emigrants departed for the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States on board a ship.
The Picture Collections include images of Russian emigrants in Finland in the 1920’s, Finnish civilians evacuated, and Finnish children sent to Sweden, Norway and Denmark during the Second World War.
Ingrian Finns were moved to Finland on a ship named Suomi (Finland) to protect them from the war in 1943. Photo: Antti Hämäläinen / The Picture Collections of the National Board of Antiquities
The last civilian resident of Viborg leaving the city on 20 June 1944. Photo: Finnish Army photographer Reinhold Ruponen / Finlandia-Kuva / The Picture Collections of the National Board of Antiquities
Thousands of people fled from Chile after the military coup 1973. The Perez family at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport November 19, 1973. Photo: Matti Tapola / The Finnish Pressphoto Archives JOKA / Picture Collections / National Board of Antiquities
The Finnish Press Photo Archives JOKA represents the photographic files of one of Finland’s earliest news picture agencies, as well as of newspapers and freelance photographers. The JOKA collections include images of the first refugees from Chile who came to Finland in autumn 1973, after the military coup, and of the first 45 Vietnamese boat people arriving in Finland on August 6, 1979.
The first Vietnamese refugees arrived in Finland in autumn 1979. Vietnamese children make friends with Finnish children at the Lauttasaari Manor in Helsinki, August 7, 1979. Photo: Leif Weckström / Pressfoto Zeeland / The Finnish Pressphoto Archives JOKA / Picture Collections / National Board of Antiquities
Soon we realized what we had missed. Over 30,000 asylum seekers had arrived in Finland in 2015, but we did not have any photos of them. Being a museum, we could show the past, but we lacked the link between the past and the present. I remembered a photo of three Iraqi asylum-seekers talking to Santa Claus in Finnish Lapland, published in the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. Kaisa Rautaheimo, the Helsingin Sanomat photographer, had made a reportage of asylum-seekers in Finland in autumn of 2015, and the paper wanted to participate in the exhibition with the reportage photos.
Iraqi asylum seekers, Osama (left) and Omar, on the bank of the Tornionjoki river in Tornio in Finland, in September, 2015. Photo: Kaisa Rautaheimo / Helsingin Sanomat
Could you tell us more about Kaisa Rautaheimo and her work?
Kaisa Rautaheimo, born in 1981, has been a photographer for Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, since 2013. Before that she worked for the Finnish news magazine Suomen Kuvalehti, and as a freelancer. In addition to working as a press photographer, she also works on documentary projects of her own. She studied photography and photo journalism at the Lahti University of Applied Sciences, and at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in Finland.
Kaisa Rautaheimo’s latest photo exhibition, Boys,which opened at the Finnish Museum of Photography on January 15, 2016, portrays the detachment of young Finnish men, drifting in life without purpose.
Could you expand on the aesthetics of the photos? Where were most of them taken – at border crossings, refugee camps, elsewhere? What sort of situations do they portray?
The photos in the exhibition are rich in visual information. They document people on the road, coming or going, or starting a new life in a new place. There are refugees, evacuees, immigrants, migrants, asylum-seekers – people looking for a new life. For example, there are photos that show three sisters who found new jobs as waitresses in America in 1900, as well as Finnish-Canadian miners in 1927.
Finnish Canadian miners in 1927. Photo: Sakari Pälsi / The Picture Collections of the National Board of Antiquities
Some images portray scenes of daily life in an asylum center in Finland – refugees studying the Finnish language or at work. Others show asylum-seekers in demonstrations. There are Vietnamese boat people who have their first snowball fight ever, in Finland in 1988; and a Kurdish men’s hunger strike, in 1993. Kaisa Rautaheimo has documented the very similar life of asylum-seekers in Finland today. Many of the exhibition photos convey feelings of otherness.
Vietnamese refugees have a snowball fight at the asylum reception centre of Kotoranta in Nurmijärvi, February 4, 1988. A new group of refugees came to Finland the day before. Photo: Pekka Nieminen / Pressfoto Zeeland / The Finnish Pressphoto Archives JOKA / Picture Collections / National Board of Antiquities
Has this exhibition brought about a new wave of debates in Finland's political, social and cultural spheres?
The question of refugees has been a controversial topic in Finland now that over 30,000 asylum seekers arrived in Finland last year. The Refugee, evacuee, human photo exhibition is the museum’s response to the ongoing discussion. The museum is able to give a decades-long perspective on people on the road to and from Finland. I think the Picture Collections of Finland’s National Board of Antiquities, together with the Finnish Press Photo Archives JOKA, provide important historical documents.
The exhibition Refugee, evacuee, human is displayed in room 010, next to the cafeteria, on the museum ground floor through 6 March 2016.