Mural in making. Photo: Mari Keski-Korsu

Speak up – Mural workshop in youth house Valikkari

“Speak Up” is a mural painting made on a wall of the youth association’s house in Pyhäjoki. It was initiated by visual artist Leena Pukki, and made in cooperation with local young people. The mural was painted during a workshop, which was open to all and advertised through the Internet (ie. Facebook) and posters.

The theme of the mural painting is ‘opinions’. Because of planned nuclear power plant in the area, different opinions criss-cross. The workshop’s goal was to develop an open forum to the building’s wall, where youth – or anyone – could express their opinions in a visual way. The four-day workshop included discussions about opinions, sketching, and painting the final mural art piece. The composition consisted of a character holding a megaphone, from where the ‘opinion’-paintings, painted to a separate boards come from. The mural painting includes also much free space, so that the expression of opinions could carry on longer into the future.

The art piece reflects the thoughts of the village’s youth, but in the background there is also Pukki’s own perspective, influenced from growing up in a slightly larger municipality than Pyhäjoki. She elaborates as follows:

In a secondary school, about at the age of 14, I was a member of the student council. The council was re-elected every spring, and was traditionally organized with the whole school meeting as assembly, during which the voting or election happened. Before the elections, there was a meeting of the council, and on that occasion the supervisor teacher told us that organizing a vote would become really complicated. Also, if we vote, maybe the wrong persons will be elected. So, in her opinion, it indeed be better if we would instead choose the participants of the board beforehand. And then the day of the meeting came, nobody voted anything, and we settled the already-decided members, acting as if we didn’t notice the counter-arguments which we heard from the crowd.

So, that was the practical lesson of representative democracy offered by Luumäki grammar school. I was confused, a bit embarrassed, and I had a feeling that everything didn’t go how it was supposed to. Still, I decided to trust on the teacher’s authority. Later, when I have been observing matters a bit longer, I have noticed many political decisions follow the same storyline.

In the year 2010, reading news about the Finnish Government’s decision to grant permits for the construction of new nuclear reactors, the same feeling re-appeared. Not only the sense that fully-organized projects are forced through in the government without asking for any other opinions; but also that the decisions conform to a course of conduct decided decades ago, even though Finland and the whole world has changed significantly since.

Nuclear power plant and mining- projects, often connected together by Uranium extraction/usage, most often take place in areas with very low-population density and dispersed settlements. To confront these projects in the site of operation, or within municipality it takes place, one has to take an uncomfortable position in minority. Often critics are afraid of, for example, social stigmatization and loss of working opportunities. The young participants of the workshop told that differing or opposing views of the nuclear industry in the area has caused some problems in their relationships.

During the project I had questions in my mind: Why does one have to be afraid of expressing an opinion which is not mainstream? Is political conversation possible in a neutral manner? How is consensus born, and how does it function? Is political conversation even possible in Finland if it has something to do with the economy or industry?

Even though I might have strong opinions, I can’t assume that the participants of the workshop would agree with me. I told the participants about my views related to nuclear power, but I tried to keep the conversation open. The mural painting’s aim was to create a conversation on the problematic of expressing an opinion, aswell as including a variety of opinions, not only to proclaim one opinion. I hope this can be seen from the painting, and the combination of elements.

The youth association’s house in Pyhäjoki, known colloquially as Valikkari, seems to me to be quite exceptional in youth activities. The village’s young people had the keys to the building, and skating activities (as well as building the ramps) were self-initiated. I find such kind of places—where young adults can take responsibility—as important. If the youth doesn’t have the feeling that they are participating or have established practice of having impact on anything, decision-making becomes a distant political game. If one cannot affect concrete matters, it is easiest not to care about them.

And Luumäki then? I moved out when I was 16, and after that I have been living in different locations. All the matters of Finnish domestic policy mentioned earlier—Nuclear power, participatory democracy as it exists or not—were starting points for the mural art piece, but as noted, it also had more personal motivations. During the Case Pyhäjoki project I turned 29 and I guess my youth is ending. I wanted to know how it is nowadays to be 14 “at the village”.

Participants of the ‘Speak Up’ mural art project:
Marleena Maliniemi, Milja Kaurala, Santeri Pirttilä, Outi Lyttinen, Nadia Kleine Staarman, Olga Kleine Staarman, Saila Kleine Staarman.

Mural painting finished. Photo by Liisa Louhela.

‘Speak up’ mural. Photo by Liisa Louhela.

Painting work. Photo by Liisa Louhela.

Painting work. Photo by Liisa Louhela.

Paints at the Mural painting workshop. Photo by Liisa Louhela.

Paints of the Mural painting workshop. Photo by Liisa Louhela.

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