Sunday, October 26, 2008

Images of Women during Finnish Civil war

ELÄMÄN VIIVAT. Lifelines. photo by Heikki Aho or Bjorn Soldan

Pictures tell a lot of stories. This image is from an old Finnish book (1948), Suomen Kuva [Picture of Finland], in a section titled Pyhäpäivä [Holyday, or day of rest, or Sunday]. This crowd of women are dressed in their Sunday best, standing outside of their village church. I found the book at a rummage sale where boxes and boxes of old Finnish books were for sale. Not many books were sold. Not many takers for old Finnish language books. To me, however, books like this are interesting to read for how the images selected construct particular narratives of Finland and Finnishness. I've noticed that there are often images of wizened elderly peasant women in aprons and headscarves included in these nation-making stories of Finland. As a young girl I remember these sorts of images being impressed on my mind, and when later in my life I came across a photo of a Helsinki woman who looked like a British Victorian woman, I was shocked. I became conscious of how class intersects with gender.

I think that this elderly woman's face no longer symbolizes salt-of-the-earth elderly women in Finland as most women today have not worked the land and been out in the elements all their lives, so they would not have deep lines like she does. My own mother's face (mid 70s) is a silken sheet. I remember Mrs. Nevala's face, though. She looked a lot like the woman in the photo above. Although we were scolded enough by our mom never to stare, my sisters and I couldn't help but just stare at her when she moved about her woodstove in the small kitchen of her small wood house on Picadilly Ave. Her husband, Jussi, would sit on the side, legs crossed, smoking. He'd have a hevosmiehen hattu on his head. His face was brown as a bean, thin as a korppu and was deeply lined.

Mr. Nevala looked a bit like this, but skinnier. This photo of Riku Sulko is from the 1975 Isoon Lusikän Pitäjä; tarinaa ja totta Kauhajoelta [Big spoon county: stories and truth from Kauhajoki]. Mr.and Mrs. Nevala reminded us girls of the mummo and paappa photos we saw in the books about Finland. No wonder we loved going to the Nevala's!

I've received a poster about an upcoming talk on images of Finnish women, but I am unable to copy it, so I've included the text below. A guest speaker from Finland, Hannah Snellman, is coming to town this week to show images of wartime Finnish women and to discuss their meanings. See below.

1918 Civil War in Finland: a woman’s experience through pictures and narratives

Oct. 30. 7:00pm
Finlandia Hall, 314 Bay St

"In her talk Dr. Hanna Snellman will discuss the historical turning point in the Finnish Civil War in 1918, which has gained new interpretations lately. Today we don't see the war only as a dispute between the Reds and the Whites, the left and the right wing, but also as embodiments of the forces of evil. Everyone suffered as a consequence of the war. Lately a lot of research has been published concerning the fate of women and children during the civil war. She will shed light on the experiences of women during the civil war. She will show 70 photographs taken in 1918 and analyze how roles of women during war are represented visually. Photographs are not only documents of reality, but they also have a great effect on the way the war has been reminisced. The pictures have an "afterlife" in narratives.

Hanna Snellman, PhD, has worked in the Department of Ethnology, University of Helsinki since 1987, first as research associate and later as Academy Research Fellow. Currently she is a Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies finishing her project on Finnish immigrant women in Sweden. In 2007 she served as the fifth Finnish Chair at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada. Dr. Snellman's research interests have mainly dealt with the history of forest areas and migration and are always based on interviews. Dr. Snellman’s oral history approach often focuses on northern issues.

Coffee and pulla by donation to the Finnish Heritage Building Fund

Brought to you by the Lakehead University Chair in Finnish Studies Committee, Northern Studies and the Advanced Institute for Globalization and Culture."


marja-leena said...

I have some of these very old photo books too, so this is all very interesting reading! I remember some stories of that time passed on by my mother, originally passed on from her mother and grandmother. I wish I could be at that talk and see those photos. Our Finnish community is so small here that we don't have many such exciting events.

northshorewoman said...

I wish I could hear those stories, too! You should write them down. I will take some photos at the event and post them here. I will mention to Hanna that maybe she should consider going out to the west coast one day, too. Maybe there are some university connections, so she can be invited to speak.