I make this simple statement clearly and confidently, because it matters. To paraphrase Alice Walker: “This is the work my soul must have.” I am an artist who does not stand alone. So many lives and memories and spirits are woven into my work; also woven into my heart.
I met my partner and artist collaborator Petri Saarikko 18 years ago in Italy at a design lab where I worked as a young graphic designer. Instantly, I knew I had found a soulmate. I came to Helsinki for the first time in 2000. My life and work were changed forever, in every possible way. My fellow awardees all have their own unique story to tell and share and who all have loved ones that have supported them on their journey. This moment proves that magic is possible, when there is love and a nourishing environment.
If Petri had told me back when we met that one day I would be awarded Finland’s State Art Prize and get the opportunity to thank the Minister of Culture, the Arts Councils and the Arts Promotion Centre Finland on behalf of all the awardees here present, and all of this in the context of the 50th anniversary of the Arts Promotion Centre Finland, I would not have believed him. Yet, here I am.
We do not stand alone.
We do not stand alone. And we have not arrived here on our own. All of us have people who have believed in our visions, supported us, advised us, loved us. In my case, it has been thanks to Petri’s love and selfless support in everything, literally. My mentors, my family, my ancestors living on in and through me, have all given me the strength to go on in my endeavour to do art in which I have found my purpose. I also should like to thank my university, the Arts Promotion Centre Finland and other foundations for their support over the years.
Finland is the place where we decided to plant our seeds, and it is here where I started my art career. I am forever thankful for this possibility. Now, there is an eighteen-year-old tree and several kinds of fruits we have been sharing with others to eat – starting here in Finland and spreading its roots around the world. There is also one particularly special fruit, with hands and feet and a mind of his own, who is seven years old and who is called Basil – definitely the most precious of all. It is true that there are also some strange fruits hanging from this tree.
Feeling rooted in a community and country is a process. A tree needs sun, water – and love to be able to grow and breathe. We all need the right conditions to be happy and co-exist on this beautiful planet. But roots are not just grounding structures to keep us steady and strong. They are also pathways that link and communicate with the soil and the environment. Rootedness is connectedness. We are all interconnected.
It is unfortunate and a tragedy that these connections are repeatedly disrupted and endangered all over the world. Everybody has the right to have the chance to create a full and dignified life; to breathe clean air, to eat well, to learn new things, to have time for rest and play, and even to make space for dreaming. These are human rights. I just want to stop for a moment and – together with you – think about those who have been denied these rights.
I make art to re-imagine history
from different perspectives.
Connection requires empathy and understanding, because empathy is shared feeling and knowing. This is built into the planetary symbiosis. It is also the sensitivity that elevates our humanity. I think, we need to be kinder to one another. And I think we need more art.
Art is my medium for making connections. It has helped me to make sense of the world we live in and to invite audiences to dare to discuss uncomfortable subjects, such as racism, colonialism and inequality. I make art to highlight our blind spots and to make meaning from within the silences. I make art to re-imagine history from different perspectives. I make art to move the marginalised into the centre. And I make art to help to co-create a future that offers more equality and freedom for all. Yifat Gutman describes this work as “memory activism” – and yes, it is true, I defend the dead. But I do this to open the eyes and hearts and minds of the living.
So, let me thank you for honouring my work, and my practice. I want to thank you for recognising the importance of working for love and for justice. And for welcoming me and my roots into this community.
Extract from Sasha Huber Saarikko’s acceptance speech at the Taike Gala on 27 November 2018.