Minna Valjakka Awarded Research Council of Finland Grant

Photo courtesy of Salim Basalamah, Conceptual Artist and Educator
IG: @salim.makes
Mula Tak habis-habis [insatiable]
Installation of debris from digested polystyrene, traces of Superworms, dimensions variable 2024

Congratulations to Dr Minna Valjakka, Associate Professor, Art History and Asian Studies who recently received a grant from the Research Council of Finland to conduct a new project “Ecological Conjunctions: Contemporary Arts and Natural Science Collaborations for Civil Society Formation (EcoConjunctions)”.  EcoConjunctions is an innovative project that explores the dynamic relationship between contemporary arts, natural sciences, sustainability and civil society from an ecocritical perspective. Its interdisciplinary approach draws on art history, sociology of art and civil society studies. Through selected case studies from Finland, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan, it aims to contribute and to decolonise research art-science collaborations by formulating non-Euro-American-centric frameworks. The main objectives include: tracing local and transcultural genealogies of art-science collaborations, identifying their strategies for translating, producing and contributing to scientific knowledge, and critically analysing the possible societal impacts. With national and international collaborators from the arts, natural sciences, humanities and social sciences, the project aims to establish a new field of interdisciplinary research in Finland and offer new perspectives for international research.

‘KITA’ Film Screening – Celebrating Malaysia’s Diversity in Helsinki

The Embassy of Malaysia in Helsinki in collaboration with the ‘KITA’ (Us) documentary production team, organised a film screening event at the K13 cinema in Helsinki on 4 June 2024 as part of Malaysia’s continuous Cultural Diplomacy initiative.

‘KITA’ (which means Us in the Malay language) is a powerful documentary that highlights the rich cultural tapestry of Sabah, Malaysia. Through compelling storytelling and breathtaking visuals, the film showcases the harmonious coexistence of diverse ethnic communities in Sabah, celebrating their unique traditions, languages, and heritage. The documentary not only reflects the beauty of Sabah’s multicultural society but also serves as an inspiring testament to unity in diversity as we took this opportunity to also commemorate 50 years of bilateral relations between Malaysia and Finland.

In 2023 ‘KITA’ was screened for the local Malaysian diaspora and making Finland the first international debut for the film to be showcased globally. Given last year’s success, the documentary’s reach and meaningful message were extended to an international audience once again in Finland.

The screening of ‘KITA in 2024 began with an Appreciation Remarks video message by Datuk Christina Liew, Minister of Culture, Tourism, and Environment Sabah, followed by Welcoming Remarks by Mr Mohamed Ariff Mohamed Ali, Charge d’affaires of the Embassy of Malaysia in Helsinki. Both highlighted the close cooperation that has led to the formulation of this event – which in-turn has successfully attracted over 120 registrations comprising members of the diplomatic community, Finnish officials, travel enthusiasts, researchers, students, Malaysians living in Finland, as well as Friends of Malaysia.

For those who had never visited Malaysia, the event showcased and educated the participants about Malaysia as a country, its culture, society, and its diversity as a travel destination. Many commented on the event being an opportunity to discover a new destination and were eager to hear travel advice. Participants also included Asian cinema enthusiasts, who welcomed the rare opportunity to view a Malaysian documentary in Finland, as well as local researchers interested in the film from a socio-cultural perspective, who inquired about further sources for local literature. Overall, the documentary was educational on many aspects – from the multicultural nature of Malaysia’s society, religious diversity and traditions, multilingualism, rural community initiatives, arts and fashion, and, most importantly for many Malaysians – our common love language – the rich food culture!

The event was more memorable with having the presence of ‘KITA’ Producer Mr. Lim Hock Song, who took the opportunity to give an overall vision of the project followed later by an interactive post event discussion session. Mr. Hock Song’s links to Finland date back to his time studying at Aalto University, making him familiar with the local culture and society. His motive for the film, as primarily a business consultant who has lived and worked in many cultures – from Malaysia, China, Austria, and Finland – was to highlight diversity as an asset. During the Q&A session, participants had the opportunity to hear the producer’s insights into religious dimensions, his role in the film, the background of selecting the characters featured, as well as the folk instruments showcased in the film.

The messages of the film – “Diversity is Strength,” “Diversity is Beautiful,” and “Diversity is Delicious” – were captured throughout the film via the diverse experiences of individuals living in Sabah; including a multiracial Chinese-Indian family, a Chinese Muslim religious leader, a music teacher, a Malay teacher teaching mandarin, local chefs elevating Sabahan culture through gourmet food, Pangrok Sulap community artists using art as an avenue to bring out the voices of a remote local community in Ranau, as well as an ethnic motif textile specialist, founder of Chanteek Borneo and promoter of local handmade textile artisans.