I LIVE LIKE COMMON PEOPLE
31 October 2011, Cervera de los Montes
My travel agent Carmen was laughing when I told her to look for me flights and hotel in Playa de las Américas, a purpose-built holiday resort in Tenerife. Last time I went to Viajes El Corte Inglés, I got flights to Syria.
Somehow people get surprised or even annoyed when they find out that a vexatious and political artist like me does normal things. It's not like I want to live like common people, I want to do whatever common people do because actually I am one of them. On Tuesdays, I buy convenience food in Carrefour and on Sundays, I vacuum and wash my four-door compact sedan with two child safety seats. My profession is not common but when I'm at home, there's nothing extravagant in my life.
Of course, the Canary Island resort wasn't my idea. My mother and grandmother are going there and my family will join them. I really don't care what is the place if the four generations can spend few days together.
THE GOLDEN HIT LIST
25 October 2011, Cervera de los Montes
He has a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot, an assassin that's second to none, the man with the golden gun. Lurking in some darkened doorway or crouched on a roof top somewhere, in the next room, or this very one, the man with the golden gun. Love is required whenever he is hired, it comes just before the kill, no-one can catch him, no hit man can match him, for his million dollar skill. One golden shot means another poor victim has come to a glittering end, for a price, he erases anyone - the man with the golden gun.
James Bond shot down Fransisco Scaramanga, Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi. It is fascinating to find out whose name Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton have written next on the hit list. Is it Bashar al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez or Dr. No?
21 October 2011, Cervera de los Montes
An alter ego is a second self, a second personality within a person, who is often oblivious to the persona's actions. It was coined in the early nineteenth century when dissociative identity disorder was first described by psychologists. A person with an alter ego is said to lead a double life.
I live a double life. Last week I was an artstar in Helsinki and this week I've been a househusband in a tiny village. Neither of these lives could exist without each other. My self-esteem as artist needs to be adored in the art world and my integrity as person requires to be treated just as a normal father of a family. It's all about balance. I love to live in the countryside - there are no openings, partys or dinners. I don't have to choose what to do and where to go, here I'm just with my family and work in the studio.
We moved to Cervera de los Montes six years ago. It was just when the broadband internet reached the village, a feature that makes it possible to be a globally working artist based in the periphery. It sounds terrible, but in this sense, the technology made me free.
ARTIST SAW NO TANKS WHILE IN SYRIA
15 October 2011, Helsinki
This is the article by Antti Järvi published in Helsingin Sanomat yesterday:
ARTIST SAW NO TANKS WHILE IN SYRIA
RIIKO SAKKINEN ACCUSES THE FINNISH INSTITUTE IN THE MIDDLE EAST OF CENSORSHIP
Syrian Arab Airlines flight RB402 lands at Damascus Airport. It is Sunday, September 4th. Finnish artist Riiko Sakkinen has left his home in Spain in defiance of warnings. Sakkinen’s mother has advised her son, the father of two children, not to travel to a country where there is fighting between rebels and government forces.
The exhibition exchange center Frame has chosen Sakkinen to spend a month in residence in Syria. His apartment is within the Finnish Mideast Institute. It is a magnificent building from the late years of the House of Osman. Its large courtyard has a fountain and lush citrus trees.
“Painter” is what Sakkinen writes on his entry form as his profession. Although this is not true, strictly speaking, Sakkinen has made a reputation for himself with his drawings and other works which comment on consumer culture and politics. He also has a reputation of being provocative, and knowing how to take advantage of publicity.
Sakkinen believes that he is entering a country in which tanks patrol the streets. However, life in the city appears to be normal, although the hotels and the post card racks are fairly quiet.’
At the Finnish Mideast institute he is told that the building and the telephones might be under surveillance. Sakkinen does not know what to believe.
It is his intention to become acquainted with local artists during the trip. He is also taking photographs for a series which is to be called Syria for Dummies. In the series Sakkinen concentrates on depicting Syrian consumer products, graffiti, and pictures of President Bashar al-Assad which can be seen in store windows, for instance.
After spending a couple of days in Damascus Sakkinen gets an e-mail from a Helsingin Sanomat panel in advance of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, asking him if he thinks that the Western countries can win the war against terror? Sakkinen feels that the question is silly and technical. His answer brims with irony: “The Western countries can win the war against terror by bombing all Muslim countries to the Stone Age with nuclear weapons, by conducting ethnic cleansing, by locking all Muslims living in the West, as well as all of those who fraternize with them and all other dissidents into camps…”
When the director of the institute, Ari Kerkkänen, hears from his staff what Sakkinen wrote in his answer, he forbids the publication of the text. “If this is published, the residence will be cancelled immediately.” Sakkinen does not want this to happen, and he rewrites the answer, putting it in softer terms.
Sakkinen believes that the employees of the institute suffer from paranoia. It is hard for him to imagine that a comment that he makes in a Finnish newspaper could have any bearing on the situation in Syria.
When Ari Kerkkkänen returns from a visit to Finland, he speaks with Sarkkinen and orders him to obey the rules of the institute.
Sakkinen says that the rules include the institute’s right to preview everything that Sakkinen writes during his time in Syria and afterwards. “Perhaps they have not known that an artist can be an active participant in society”, Sakkinen says in retrospect.
Sakkinen does not visit the worst conflict areas. Nevertheless he feels that the Western media is taking a black-and-white view when it reports on the situation in Syria. He becomes acquainted with local artists and minorities who are worried about the future of the secular and multicultural state.
He believes that the Western media is one-sided in its portrayal of the rebels as champions of democracy, and that supporters of al-Assad are being portrayed one-sidedly as oppressors. “Also involved is a struggle between hard-line Sunni Muslims and the supporters of a secular society”, Sakkinen says.
When Sakkinen leaves Syria in early October his leg is sore. He hurt it in a night club in an attempt to make a kung-fu style leap off of two bar stools.
THIS ARTSTAR LIFE
14 October 2011, Helsinki
Is there something better than to wake up in the Riiko Sakkinen Suite of Hotel Klaus K, open the newspaper and see a full page article of myself? Artist Saw No Tanks While in Syria - Riiko Sakkinen Accuses the Finnish Institute in the Middle East of Censorship.
I had breakfast with my gallerist Raoul and then Jonni's TV crew arrived to interview me about the artworld for the national YLE TV1. They filmed me sleeping in the suite with a furry animal and then I suddenly woke up beginning to speak about the art policy. After that I met my professor Henry who interviewd me for his autobiography and then I had lunch with Naima - Finland's next film director in Hollywood. I wish all the Finnish orientalists knew Naima, originally from Somalia. She breaks all the stereotypes what they have of Muslim women wearing scarf by kissing my cheeks in public. Naima is one of my biggest fans and now we´ll do a trade - I paint a slogan on her Fendi bag and she cooks me a Somali dinner.
All the week has been just fancy dinners, cocktail parties, openings and champagne. And interviews - Helsingin Sanomat's Antti met me directly when I came from the airport. I would be a lot to know how the director of the Finnish Institute, a very bad media strategist, feels now when all what he censored has been published with an amazing visibility. He said that if my comments appear in the newspaper, somebody will bomb and raid the Institute. Is it happening now?
THE PERPETUAL DISSIDENT
10 October 2011, Cervera de los Montes
I’m off to Helsinki tomorrow. I’ve been invited to participate in Frame’s seminar Each invited speaker of the seminar will present a proposal for improvement or change, a new fictive rule, for the art world.
Many of us would like to embrace an idea of an art world that is juster and fairer than politics or economy but I’m afraid that it is an integral part of the world which is defined by the global capitalism, thus follows the rules of global capitalism. The local art worlds simultaneously pursue the rules of their local economic and political paradigms. If you want to change the art world you have to change the world.
I give an interview to the Finnish National TV. Obviously, I’m going to be asked about political situation in Syria. My experience, based on the points of views of local people I met, was that at this very moment the current regime provides the best of all possible Syrias - which doesn't mean that I back the dictatorship of the Baath Party. Unfortunately, there is no instant paradise available. I'm terribly sorry that I can't transmit better news.
My friend Umayya, who is Christian Palestinian living in Amsterdam, says that I’m honest with my writing but that the situation is more complicated than what I can see on the spot. She points out that the Islamists exist but this revolution is not about them - she sees that the problem is that there is a minority governing the country. In Syria, nobody talked to me about Alawites who are, according to the Western media, running the country as a mafia-like family.
Umayya tried to put me in contact with some dissidents in Damascus but it didn’t work out because it would have been too dangerous for them to meet me. I regret not to have been able to add in my arsenal an interview with a non-Islamist rebel. Anyhow, I’m not selling the truth but at least I think I know more about Syria than Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN together.
Probably nobody will believe in Helsinki what I’ve seen and heard in Syria but that’s my role as artist – a perpetual dissident.
FREEDOM OF CENSORSHIP
06 October 2011, Cervera de los Montes
I'm cooking for my wife and playing with my kids but I'm still thinking of Syria. Next week I go to Helsinki to participate in the seminar New Rules of Art Policy and Other Fantasies organized by Frame. I've been invited to tell about my experiences in the rogue state. Also the Finnish National TV will interview me. We'll see if they let me tell what I've seen and heard. I talked with a Finnish journalist who was interested to interview me for a prominent magazine but when he heard that my point of view is different from the Western media, he canceled the interview. Nothing positive about the Syrian government can be said in the Western media. The freedom of speech in the West is precisely as empty as my Syrian friends believe.
I met in Damascus an undercover captain of the Finnish Army who had entered to the country as a flower business representative. He told me that all the journalist returning from the Middle East to Finland are invited to have lunch at the Israeli Embassy. Maybe Mossad agents are the only people wanting to listen to me.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE POSTCOLONIALISM
02 October 2011, Damascus
It’s three in the morning and I’m at the Damascus International Airport waiting for my flight to Madrid. This afternoon, I went to Nisrine’s studio to say goodbye. We traded works and I got two collages - much better souvenirs than the fake antique kitsch they tried to sell me in the old town.
We talked about politics, impossible to avoid here, and the art world. Nisrine told that I’m the first Westener who treats her just normally without any orientalism – and I’m not the first Westener she meets, she has traveled widely and done residencies both in Europe and the United States.
The Western curators want her to work with burqas and other oriental clichés. If she disagrees in anything, her inferior condition as a Middle Eastern artist is made clear. The curators tell her that a Syrian artist should be grateful for the opportunities they offer her and not demand the same conditions as the European or American artists participating in the same event.
I could be flattered for being better than those assholes but my idea of the West implodes. I thought naively that the ideology of the European art people was the postcolonialism, at least it was the core of my studies in the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts.
We drove in Nisrine’s Volkswagen Tiguan to the old town. I said that I wanted to have dinner in a place where they serve beer. Nisrine replied it was fine though she doesn’t drink alcohol - adding that it’s not because she’s Muslim, she just doesn’t like drinking. We left the SUV in a valet parking and entered to a traditional restaurant, or that’s what I believed. Nisrine told that when she studied, 10 years ago, there was only one restaurant, illegal, in Damascus. The art students knocked the door to get in. In the 80s the restaurants had been prohibited in the old town because they were both meeting places of the infamous Muslim Brotherhood and targets of their bombs. The only and illegal restaurant was closed until Jacques Chirac came to do a state visit. President Hafez al-Assad wanted to show him that Damascus was a dynamic city and ordered to open the restaurant. Now there are places to eat, drink and smoke nargile in every corner of the central Damascus.
When Nisrine was a schoolgirl, everybody used the same olive green army uniforms, boys and girls received military training and they chanted slogans against imperialism, capitalism and Zionism. She said that people have been content with the economic reform, to be able to form companies, wear colorful apparel and, particularly, buying cars. The Syrians love cars. Everybody is spending what they have and not saving money for an uncertain future. Now the consuming will stop, when the sanction begin to function – there will be no more American cigarettes and German cars available.
I board on Syrian Arab Airlines’ Airbus, which is almost empty. No Europeans travel to Syria since the spring and Europe doesn't want any Syrians. Nisrine had just visited Scandinavia and told me that getting the visa was humiliating, expensive and almost impossible and she had missed several flights in Europe because of being suspected terrorist.
INTERVIEW OF AN ISLAMIST
01 October 2011, Damascus
The same day president Assad said on the TV that the crisis is over (absolutely untrue) I met Abdulkarim (name changed), an Islamist supporting the rebellion. He was introduced me by a European acquaintance, who is worried for my growing sympathy for the Syrian government in the fight against the Islamists. For some reason the West combats Islamist movements on their own soil and in many other places but support them in Syria.
Abdulkarim is 32 years old engineer who doesn't meet my stereotype of an Islamist. He speaks perfect English, has refined manners, has traveled all over the world and has a French fiancee converted to Islam. I thought they were poor people who had nothing to lose.
Abdulkarim demands democracy but as an instrument, not as a value. He wants free elections but I get the idea that he believes that his side would win and then more election would not be necessary ever again. He says that democracy means that the majority has the power and there is no room for minorities. Some Islamists demand expulsion of the Christians (10% of the population) to Europe.
Abdulkarim thinks that not only Syria but all the countries of the world should follow sharia. He admires the Taliban regime in Afganistan but according to him they should have taught sharia to people, who were confused for not knowing it. He says that the Christians don’t have to be afraid because there have never been violence between the ethnic and religious groups in Syria. According to him, the threat of sectarian violence has been invented by the government. I have read very different history of Syria where churches have been burning. Anyways, Abdulkarim is angry because he saw somebody drinking beer in a park during the Ramadan - a clear declaration of war.