October’s Artist Interview: Minna Maija Lappalainen

Posted on 7.10.2014

Already as a child, the artist Minna Maija Lappalainen (b. 1963) got to travel abroad and know foreign cultures.

”My father worked for the UN, so when I was seven, we lived in Israel for a whole year. It has definitely affected my personality and interests. In addition I traveled a lot as a child and a youth: my parents sent me to visit acquaintances after another, so that I could keep up my English”, Lappalainen tells in her studio at Barker, Turku.

Lappalainen moved to Turku at 13 years, and at high school she started to consider artist’s profession. Lappalainen first studied in Kankaanpää Art School, until in year 1986 she got in the Turku Drawing School.

“While I was studying in Turku Drawing School the situation was volatile. The teachers changed, and no one was really in charge of anything. The school worked quite neglectfully, whereas nowadays the students are offered much more information and skills for the future. At my time of study you had to gather information yourself”, Lappalainen recalls.

Lappalainen graduated from painting at the Drawing School in 1989, and already next year she had an exhibition in Rantagalleria in Turku.

”Yet, I haven’t concentrated on Turku, but I have held exhibitions also elsewhere in Finland and abroad. There are differences between cities in Finland: if you exhibit in Helsinki you could get eight works sold, whereas the same exhibition in Turku could sell only one work”, Lappalainen states.

Besides her artistic activity, Lappalainen has throughout her career tried to develop the art field in Turku. Lappalainen functioned as chairwoman for artists’ association Arte in Turku in years 1997–1998 and as a regional artist for Southwest Finland in 2002–2004. She has been working especially in order to improve the working space situation for Turku-based artists and to introduce the so-called one-percent-principle in the city’s public building projects.

Lappalainen has made public works among others to the Main Library and Luolavuori School in Turku. In addition she has organized and carried out different collaborative artistic projects.

”I enjoy being alone, so I didn’t spend much time in big bronanzas as a student. Not until at the end of the 1990s, being the chairwoman of Arte, I started to do more joint projects with others”, Lappalainen recounts.

According to Lappalainen, collaborative projects differ greatly from the artistic work of one’s own.

”I wouldn’t want to do just either one. I don’t think I’d have the energy to be social all the time, so it’s good to concentrate on my own work sometimes”, Lappalainen smiles.

”There haven’t been dramatic changes in my artistic work during my career. At first I did only two-dimensional works like pastel paintings or ink drawings, but after my first journey to Africa I started to make three-dimensional works as well, like installations. Contrary to my installations, my two-dimensional works are terribly personal an intimate. There’s no mindset behind them that I could describe with words”, Lappalainen says.

Ecology is one combining factor in Lappalainen’s oeuvre.

”Ecological questions can be seen in my choice of material. It is now commonplace to utilize recycled materials, but I remember thinking about ecological matters already as a child”, Lappalainen says.

In years 2004–2013 Lappalainen coordinated a two-way cultural and developmental project Taf taf in cooperation with a regional organisation in Dakar called Jasg. In cooperation with local inhabitants and Finnish professionals the project built permanent infrastructure applied to the local circumstances in the poor neighbourhood of Santhiaba in Senegal’s capital city Dakar.

”In the beginning Taf taf was a little floundering, but facing realities helped the work in the end. The development cooperation worked well and the projects were successful and versatile. For instance we spoke to the locals about ecological matters, planted trees and brought Finnish midwifes to the region and a new, more humane way of thinking to the schools. Yet the Finnish didn’t go to Africa to preach, but they realized their projects relaxedly together with the locals. Furthermore, Taf taf didn’t support anyone’s insolence: the Finns working in the project didn’t live in posh gated communities like the Westerners usually do in Africa, but in quite shabby environments. It is really rare in Africa that the Westerners live among the locals”, Lappalainen says.

After the interview Turku Artists’ Association invited Minna Maija Lappalainen to become its honorary member. Lappalainen has successfully coordinated Turku Artists’ Association’s Taf taf –project during years 2004-2013 and thus promoted significantly the fulfilment of association’s purposes.

Artist’s homepage

Text and pictures: Enni Niemelä
Translated by Pirkko Holmberg

In honour of Turku Artists Association’s 90-years-jubilee the association presents one of its members per month throughout the whole year. Artists Association’s apprentice Enni Niemelä interviewed the members in year 2013. The interviews are published the first Tuesday of every month on Turku Artists Association’s webpages and on Facebook.