Thursday, May 6, 2010

Women in the City: In L. Onerva's footsteps

On Tuesday Mari and I took the train to Helsinki. Mari translated Hesari for me as we headed east. One advertisement was a page devoted to a show at the Ateneum art museum about women in Helsinki in 1910- -100 years before our excursion. The provocative ad and the wet snow made the quick dash into Ateneum a desirable, last minute addition to our plans.

This exhibition is wonderful and if you plan to be in Helsinki this summer it is a must see. You can read about it here on the Books from Finland web site. While giving an overview of artistic life in Russian Helsinki, the focus is on women. Using the writings of L. Onerva, the show recreates life for the educated women that were part of the artistic force that helped form independent Finland.

The Finnish writer L. Onerva is the catalyst for the show. The art historian Anna Kortelainen has gathered Onerva's own work and sets it among the paintings and sculptures of the time. Onerva studied art history and her papers and post cards are displayed alongside the art she studied. With a light, humorous touch the exhibition pokes gentle fun at the study of art history by flashing the French rococo paintings on the wall by slide projector. Art in Dark!

Mari pointed out the humor in the display of Onerva's clothing. The pairs of shoes are slung over wire. Shoes hanging on wire can be found anywhere, but in Finland it is considered a sport.

Onerva wrote novels and more than a hundred thousand poems. She traveled and lived abroad as a single woman. She was also a translator. Onerva translated French literature into Finnish including Voltaire and Balzac. I have written previously about how little written Finnish there was outside of religious materials before Elias Lönnrot. Onerva is one of the people who contributed to the expanding body of Finnish literature.

Translators are necessary to bring the Finnish literary tradition to the non-Finnish world. We had lunch with Mari's friend, David Hackston, a translator with the skills needed to introduce Finnish literature to the world. I recently bought his book, The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy, edited by Johanna Sinisalo. That is the link to Amazon! Here is a link to the publisher's web site. Wander around any bookstore in Finland and hope that the translators stay busy. There is a lot to read!

We visited some more museums in Helsinki, but ended our day in an Onerva way--with a glass of champagne at the Hotel Torni, the headquarters of the Allied Control Commission.

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