KARELIA ACROSS THE BORDER
4.3.2008 - 4.1.2009
The extensive exhibition presents people living across Finland's eastern border and the Finns' relationship with them in the tumultuous 20th century. The history of the multicultural area and the destinies and identities of minorities continue to be topical issues in East Karelia as anywhere else in the world. The exhibition is a contribution to the debate on multiculturalism and multilingualism and, for the first time, it presents the results of Finnish researchers' collection of artefacts in East Karelia during the Continuation War. The exhibition material is provided by the collections of the National Museum of Finland supplemented with objects and photographs from the St. Petersburg-based Russian Museum of Ethnography.
The exhibition tells a story of the lives of the Ingrians, Karelians, Vepsians, Komis and Skolt Sámis as well as that of local Russians through objects, texts, photographs and moving images. Despite their linguistic differences, these people were united by similar ecological conditions and sources of livelihood. The traditional sources of livelihood in the area included fishing, hunting, farming, trade and reindeer-herding. The exhibition presents items connected with the traditional sources of livelihood as well as handicrafts, including costumes, "käspaikka" towels and religious paraphernalia of the Orthodox faith.
The influence of the Orthodox Church on the people of the region has been powerful. The Orthodox faith united the Skolts, Karelians, Ludics, Vepsians and Russians. It has been present both in everyday life as well as feasts. Monasteries functioned, and continue to function, as centres of spiritual life and handicrafts and they spread new techniques such as decorative painting and gold embroidery and beading. During the Soviet era, the church was separated from the state, and from the 1920s on all religious activity was repressed. The churches were closed down and their property was confiscated. Religious activities were allowed again only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Wars and shifting borders also affected the life of the people in the region. Due to political fluctuation, people moved or were forcibly removed from their homes; for example, Stalin ordered Ingrians to be forcibly relocated to inner Russia, Central Asia and Siberia. After Finnish independence and the birth of the Soviet Union, the border was closed down. However, interest towards the peoples of the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic did not wane. In the 1920s, an extensive research project coordinated by research institutes in St. Petersburg and led by the anthropologist David Zolotaryov began. The photographs provided by the Russian Museum of Ethnography speak both of the traditional way of living and the kolkhoz economy in Karelian, Ingrian and Vepsian villages.
Karelia is also closely connected with the history of constructing the Finnish identity. The idea of "Greater Finland" and the tribal (linguistical) connection between Finno-Ugrian peoples extended to programmatic ethnographical recording and collection of items during the Continuation War in 1941. On 3 January 1942, after the offensive stage of the Continuation War, the Finnish Ministry of Education appointed a committee to plan and direct scientific research in East Karelia. The aim of the documentation of vernacular culture in the Finnish-occupied areas was to show that East Karelia belonged to the Finno-Ugrian cultural sphere. Ethnographically significant items, handicraft samples, icons, tools and their parts were collected from the burned and evacuated villages. Orthodox churches and prayer rooms were also documented. The exhibition presents items collected by Helmi Helminen from Haukkasaari village and by Sakari Pälsi from the Russian villages neighbouring the Svir monastery.
The exhibition is supplemented by a publication of the same name, the articles in which shed light on the interaction between Finland and Karelia across the border in the 20th century from the perspective of both Finnish and Russian scholars. An interesting addition is Helmi Helminen's previously unpublished travel diary from Repola written during the Continuation War. Stories about the destinies of families of the Skolt Sámi, Komis in the Kola Peninsula and Ingrians are deeply moving.
The exhibition is realised in collaboration with the Ingrian Cultural Association and the Russian Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg.
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