Then and Now and other stories

I went to the Tampere Art Gallery today.

The main focus of many of the current exhibitions in Finland at the moment is the Finnish Civil War (1918, the centenary is this year). It’s not something I know much about, so I’ve enjoyed the different exhibitions and talks I’ve been too.

Tampere is a fascinating city. To call it the “Manchester of the North” or the “Manchester of Finland” is both helpful and misleading at the same time. Both cities were born in their nation’s industrial era, and water power energised and revolutionised the manufacture of fabrics, particularly the use of cotton. Both were busy towns, with artisans and workers creating and manufacturing hats, shoes, clothing etc.

In the U.K. this month almost all eyes have been on Armistice Day in 1918, which marks the end of World War I (or the Great War -to end all wars!- as it was referred to back then). There have been impressive poppy displays and services of commemoration. In Manchester in 1918 however the main concern was the so-called Spanish Flu, a virus that was decimating a population already weakened by four years of war and shortages. (Manchester Guardian from 1918)

In Finland most eyes last year were on Finland’s 100 years of Independence (Dec 1917) which came about -at least in part – because of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which meant the semi-autonomous part of the Russian Empire, known as Finland, could shake off the ‘colonial’ power at last. What kind of nation Finland would become – would it be a Kingdom or a Republic, would its economy and government echo that being forged by the Soviets or not? The latter led to conflict between what were called the whites (broadly speaking capitalists) and the reds (socialists or communists) … and the Tampere Revolt the bloodiest conflict of all.

The exhibition at Tampere Art Museum focused on the Tampere Revolt, and what caught my eye in particular was an exhibition entitled Grandfather (Isoisä) by Juha Suonpää.

The artist used original photos from Tampere in 1918, (mostly showing soldiers from both sides of the conflict but also civilians, women and children) and then fused these old photos with a photograph of the same location taken 100 years later.

The results were remarkable!

The lower photograph merger was particularly heart breaking. The corpse of a young boy laying on what is now a zebra crossing in front of a popular shopping centre.

The upper photograph spoke to me of our being unaware of those who have gone before us, the sacrifices they made, that have contributed to our lives today.

Then, and now, … they are more deeply connected than we realise.

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