Friday, 24 February 2012

Comics by immigrants in North Karelia, Finland

Grassroots Comics were made by immigrants, refugees and Finns in two workshops in the Joensuu area. The workshops took place in October and November 2011 at the multicultural centre Vatakka in Joensuu and at the Kontioniemi reception centre for asylum seekers. Both are run by the Finnish Red Cross. The tutors and organisers of the workshops were artists Sanna Hukkanen and Sunday Mpanduji and the project was funded by Otto A. Malm’s Donation Fund.

The many faces of Antoni Kokko. Picture: Sunday Mpanduji.
The participants of  the Vatakka workshop were mainly Finnish, though a few immigrants participated, too. It was difficult to get immigrants involved.  The participants chose to make their comics about prejudice. They showed strong enthusiasm for comic making, and some of them managed to complete two wallposter comics. The organizers also hoped to get the voices of immigrants heard, so another comics workshop was held in Kontioniemi.

The residents of Kontioniemi centre are quite isolated as it is located far from town. They chose the theme Finland for their comics, but when they started creating their stories, many complained that they had very little experience from Finland. One participant was drawing a tree and stars, and when asked, he explained that it was all he had seen in Finland, “the tree and stars just outside the door”. Some participants made comics about Finnish climate that was new and extreme to them. One commented on the isolated conditions at the reception centre and also told about his background in his comic. 

In Kontioniemi there were some language difficulties in teaching, since everybody seemed to speak a different language. Some participants didn’t have any earlier experience of comics, so the whole concept was new to them. Despite the difficulties many wonderful comics were created during the workshop. The participants were happy and proud to get a chance to express themselves through the medium of comics.

The comics made during both workshops were displayed in an exhibition in Vatakka and distributed in the Joensuu area as posters and booklets. Two of the comics were even published in the local newspaper Karjalainen.

Sanna Hukkanen

I fled Iraq, when my life was in danger and came to Finland. I was safe.  Soon I felt like a prisoner, I had not seen my children and wife  for a long time.  I miss them so much.  Story and art by Yashar Abdokarim-Shakr.

Musa was in Helsinki last year and tried skating. He fell on the ice and the onlookers laughed.  He was ashamed.  This year he wants to try skating again. Story and art by Musa Mohammadi.

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