Pekka Niskanen

Visual artist and researcher, doctor of visual arts

I am writing a script for a film that describes the Sahrawi people in the Hamad desert of Algeria, their traditions of oral narrative and the deteriorating ecological state of the Baltic. What the Sahrawi and the Baltic Sea share is phosphate. It is the raw material of the fertilisers that are causing the eutrophication of the Baltic, but also the reason why the Sahrawi are refugees. The work highlights the background and current context of the Sahrawis’ existence as refugees, which relates to the phosphate mines in Western Sahara seized by Morocco. In the film, I discuss the effects of phosphate and the mining industry on the living environment and communities of the Sahrawi with Sahrawi artist Mohamed Sleiman Labat. We also discuss oral and tacit information which helps to uncover the possibilities of these communities to survive the changes they are facing. 

During my residency, I will also work on my research article on the new identity of the Sahrawi. The nomad life of the old Spanish colonial era is being replaced by the passive resistance developed by the new generations of Sahrawi at the refugee camps, as well as by institutional knowledge and art-based types of action. The new narrative includes both traditional and new information and related practices.

During my residency, I will study various materials and source materials and revise both my film script and research article based on my findings. My work relies on remembering, on the emergence of the conversations, meetings and moments of work that I shared with Mohamed Sleiman Labat during his residency at Kone Foundation’s Lauttasaari Manor from July to October 2019.  I will continue our discussions during my residency and organise virtual meetings with Sleiman Labat, who lives in the Hamad desert. 

Pekka Niskanen is a visual artist and researcher, a doctor of fine arts, who has exhibited his work in museums, galleries and at film festivals in Europe, North America and Asia since 1990. He has curated exhibitions at the Helsinki Art Museum, Ateneum Finnish National Gallery, the cultural capital event in Dortmund for the Ruhr district, Pohjoismainen Taidekeskus (Northern Art Centre) and Werstas Finnish Labour Museum in Tampere. His works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki Art Museum, the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius, the Dutch Art Academy, the City of Espoo and private collectors. In 2012, the Finnish broadcasting company Yle presented the documentary called Virtuaalinen sota, directed by Niskanen. The film focuses on Chechen refugees who fled from Russia to Europe. Niskanen has written two peer-reviewed research articles on the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, and implemented a video piece called Yhteisöterrorit (2017). During the Isis attacks, he was living and working opposite the Bataclan theatre. His video installation about the Antarctica and Burma called Can You Hear Me? was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma between 2016–2017 and belongs to Kiasma’s collection. Niskanen’s latest work, a film called Iranian Metal Coffee, was presented at the Photographic Gallery Hippolyte in Helsinki in August 2019. It tells the story of the Teheran-based heavy metal band known as Dark Matter Band.