© 2019 by Sepide Rahaa .  All rights reserved 

My speech for the seminar organised by Arkadia Seura at Pikkuparlamentti January 15, 2019 at 16.00-18.30. 

In collaboration with Globe Art Point and Culture For All

Speech Text:  Is the Finnish art field diverse, open and equal?

Edited by Edwina Goldstone

Today I am honored to be here, especially since this is the first time I stand in a country’s parliament. Finnish society is a progressive society which enables us to be having this conversation, I am truly grateful for this opportunity. Finland is a country with a promising future, with an astonishing and progressive thinking younger generation. And with so many wonderful well-intentioned people who are working day and night to bring about change in our society. However,there are several reasons that many of us do not believe that the Finnish art scene is inclusive and diverse enough in comparison to the realities which we live in society. We do not see the diversity in action. We do not see it ‘enough’ on the walls of museums and galleries, theatres and in the municipalities’ major activities. We are all part of a big family, and it is a social responsibility of every one of us to assure the maintenance of democratic life, an inclusive art and culture for all and not only for the majority. That is why we are here today discussing equality which is foundational to democracy in the parliament as its Symbol.

 

I want to emphasize here that when we discuss equity this word would need clarification as many people who hear it would not understand it to mean ‘fairness’!  we cannot only imagine ourselves but we must shift our gaze outside the box, precisely because it allows us to consider ourselves not only as a single individual but as part of an ongoing historical movement. Some of us are more privileged not to face inequality in everyday life. Race, nationality, religion, gender and age among other factors play a significant role in our experience of inequality. I believe there are people in this room who do not see any or very few of those factors when they face themselves in the mirror. Privilege is invisible. It is indeed a luxury that some of us do not have to think about. That is how privilege works, it is invisible to those who have it. Privilege is when we make decisions that benefit enough people, but not all people. I would like to give you an example, please bear with me in imagining this scene: in July 2017 the last time I had to visit the migration office Migri, in Helsinki, the young woman behind the desk, clarified facts to me: First, my marriage to a Finnish citizen is not ‘fake’, I am a good citizen because I am a researcher and an artist who earns enough money, therefore I am worthy of being granted the next four years’ of permanent residency in Finland. I calmly listened to her, but what if I had none of those qualifications wouldn’t Ibe human enough to be worthy of it?  Or last year, I was the only person from Aalto University’s team to be prevented from attending an artistic research conference at Tate Liverpool in UK, just because of the geography I come from! Years of effort in Finland and my permanent residency did not guarantee respect, equality or freedom of movement for me. 

In the last two-years of investigation, conversations and seminars organized by Globe Art Point in collaboration with artists and Finnish institutions resulted in a clearer understanding of certain issues, seen here illustrated in this mind map. There are several factors which create inequality in the Finnish art scene, some of them are drawn here. Evidently, language is the most common barrier for many artists and cultural workers to be able to carry out their practice or to be part of the art scene. It creates insufficiency and a lack of accessibility at all levels for most of the fields. It does not allow Non-Finnish and Swedish speaking artists to have the same access to opportunities and essential information. That is a privilege, a luxury that many of us do not have.

Instead of the question: ‘Is the Finnish art field diverse, open and equal?' I would like to invite us to think how can we create a more inclusive art and cultural scene. To do so we need to engage in equitable practices, it means that instead of fixing the differences we should fix the systematic obstacles, and that requires us to be more intentional. Instead of reachingfor a homogenous societywe need to recognize our differences as uniqueopportunities andnot obstacles.We can be part of making change. We need to shiftour gaze from majorities to so-called minoritiestheones who are categorized as the otherin the art scene and in society.We cannot erase history but we can amend it, by being more inclusive and diverse in all levels. It is not only about making policies but about exercising them, ‘Actions speak louder than words’!  We will not have equity unless everyone can feel they are included feeling respected and accepted without judgement. Obviously, we cannot master inclusivity and equality overnight, it cannot be adequately achieved over a short period of time. It requires our collective determination and encouragement. We cannot change our present by taking an eraser and getting rid of the problems or the past. It is an amendment, something that says, "This is where we were, but this is where we are right now, that will help us understand a little bit about where we're going”. The decisions we make today will change history and realities, for us and for our children to live a better, inclusive and diverse cultural life and to cultivate their imagination beyond that.

One Ocean Is the Distnance

(translated from the original poem in Farsi یک دریا فاصله)

I know with closed eyes

And I think of every possible and impossible

Surfing on the waves to the far distance

Beyond what exist or Not

Wish or Not

Begin or End

Best feeling is hidden in the edge

In the edge, where the sky kisses the earth on thirsty lips of the sea

 

From here where I am standing to where my dreams begin

There is only one ocean the distance

Only one ocean

May 2014, Norway

My Feminism:  In Transition, Between Now & Then

Published by Pro Artibus, I was asked to write an article for the upcoming summer exhibition in Gallery Elverket in Tammisaari/Ekenäs under the column "My Feminism"

15.6.2017

I can’t say who I am unless you agree I’m real.

-Imamu Amiri Baraka

 

We are all in constant transition from the moment of birth until the end. For me feminism is a powerful resource and force for transition and formation of ‘personal identity’; it is for us to meet ourselves in a different way in sociopolitical context. Using personal life to appreciate how some of experiences, in fact did give me the ground to be the person I am, I believe that we should endeavour to put an end on certain paths and to place ourselves within a trajectory of our lifetime and to consider how our body is met by the world where this meeting shapes our identity, the persons we are and the persons we become.  We learn a lot from what we come up against to become more aware of the power structure and to attain equality for all and not only for certain people in this world. We learn to carry on with our politicized body and not to adapt to the situation but to live our truth within it while changing it, to use our presence to break the existing hegemony of power which constitutes itself in different ways and in our everyday daily life.

 

I am thinking of those moments when there is a need for change, a need to strengthen ourselves to overcome the pressure; the moment when was given to us as a chance, a moment to rise and to speak up of all unspoken; putting all our strength together to create a passage with a brighter horizon for us and those around us. To be a feminist to me is to initiate methods within life and contemporary art, to bridge from individual perception to the social perception, by creating from public to the public, to generate knowledge and dialogue which are necessity of our time. It enforces me to destabilise the hegemony of already existing constructed discourses related to gender, identity and culture regarding women of color and their lived experiences, and to create spaces for experiments to alternate forms of relationships between individuals and society through contemporary art and its agencies, where art will act as a catharsis and transforms parts of existing realities or life experiences for possible dialogue with power of convertibility and mobility of the meanings.

 

Feminism is my believe in activism and being part of the social movement which Angela Davis expresses “the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement.”

 

It empowers me to reposition myself and to act upon, while understanding how today’s nationalism plays a key role in our life and its perpetual relation to space as territory, its impact on construction of identity, and the necessity of self-positioning in the society, as Donna Haraway emphasizes, “a commitment on mobile positioning” for seeing “from the standpoints of the subjugated in order to see well”, to investigate whose narrative is being told. According to Stuart Hall ‘the task of socialism today is to meet people where they are, where they are touched, moved, bitten, frustrated’. As often ‘WE’ as women of color are ‘assumed’ to embody race and have the burden of representation, as it becomes our responsibility to debate race and its issues which are present everywhere in our lives, but I say it out loud that it is responsibility of everybody to address it and to resist against its normalisation in everyday and in every society.

 

Being an Iranian woman living in Finland, I use life-related narratives for the dynamic between contemporary art, stereotyping representations and identity, asking questions: ‘Whose voice is being heard from all these representations? What we represent with art and how it connects us to the world and world to us?’ considering Stuart Hall’s description of identity as a site of struggle, culture as something alive and dynamic, a world which does not accommodate you, but it is you who needs to transform. Identities are about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being: not 'who we are' or 'where we came from', so much as what we ‘might become’, how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourselves. Identities are therefore constituted within, not outside representation.  And in the end, feminism strengthens me and others to live our truth and in transition, encountering with obstacles to live strongly beyond the stereotypical images and representations, to live beyond the cultural fatigue of being an exotic-oppressed woman in the Western world and restricted-oppressed woman in the Middle-Eastern world, where inevitably one is barely given escape from the repetitive self-representation.

Matter of Land

Wandering around and not knowing

To where and why

Land, far or near

The distance, counting, counting

Passing through all the bitter seas

What to see and what to say

Wandering around

Distance is endless, endless

 

The man trapped in beliefs like a fishing net

Aground and silent

Has spun the fishing net on everything except than the fish

Trying in vain

Captured in the land

Incarnation of the absurd

Useless, useless

 

Land forgives and embraces

Forgives and then takes away

It joins and separates

Intertwined everything inside, dumb and timeless

To the infinite distance

I am remained, standing, standing

Sepideh Rahaa

2015