Portraits of rulers, politicians, scientists, other intellectuals and artists have, for centuries, constructed and reinforced hierarchies of value. The traditions of portraits are a rich object of research, not only in art history, but also in sociology and political science. The establishment of national portrait galleries in Europe, such as the great British National Gallery of Portraits, was intertwined with nationalism and the high season of professional historiography in the 19th century Europe.
As in most other academic disciplines and fields of professional expertise, until close to the present times, the idolized faces of excellence and continuity in law have been of those of (white) men. This reflects the existing power hierarchies of law – including gender, class and ‘race’– that have prevailed for long periods of time also in Finland.
Portraits have served as a means of reinforcing and shaping social relations and norms, including the gendered roles in the professions of law.
Finnish society, the University of Helsinki and its Faculty of Law have undergone significant transformations in the last decades. The community of researchers, teachers and students of law are more diverse in all respects. Research in history (both in general and of law) has since the 1960s included approaches that critically analyse the presences and absences of potentially marginalized agents and actors in histories.
Similarly, the gendered, classed, raced underpinnings of law and its institutional practice have been for long studied in legal theory and doctrine, worldwide and in Finland. Yet the portraits of Porthania continue to tell us a singularly patriarchal and nationalistic story of the scholarship and excellence in law.
The idea for this project on the continuities and ruptures in how professional value in law is imagined, symbolized, and celebrated in collective rituals, has been simmering for a while, as Immi Tallgren recalls: “I had for long been puzzled by the portraits on the walls at my alma mater, the Faculty of Law at the University of Helsinki. Portraits of men, in their heavy wooden or metal frames, fill the walls of the corridors and the faculty board meeting room. From my office on the 6th floor of the Porthania building, in the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, I cannot reach the common room with a coffee machine or the elevators without those silent faces in frames staring at me – some stern and sulky, others acquiescing a female presence. There is not one portrait of a woman to be seen anywhere in the faculty.
One tiny bronze head with female features sits on a window ledge in the faculty room. Seeing her there, alone, one may get the impression she is looking out of the window into the lively crowd of students, as if searching for peers – much easier now that over the half of law students are women. Yet none made it to be framed on the wall.”
The project has a positive outlook on the future: just as portraiture may have been a site of domination and its reproduction, it can be turned into a site of playful renewal of cultural and professional codes and norms. The intention of the current collection is not to flag a lack of respect for the collective and individual memories of the past of the Faculty of Law, but to open up a creative space for dialogue on the representation of law, the legal research community and the excellence of the heterodox professionals of law working in Finland. The medium of portraits as art and representation has changed and will continue to change with the digital media culture, where images have a key role. Please join us in the exploration of new forms for making the invisibles of law visible through art and providing a public forum for inclusive discussions.
This blog will regularly provide updates on the progress of the project, the art commission process and stories/memories of former and current members of the Faculty of Law’s community.
We invite you to engage in the project, through sharing your ideas and financially supporting the project. The first round of collection of funds (based on permit number RA/2020/1375) ended on 14 February 2021. A second round will be commenced in the early summer.
Questions, contributions and suggestions can be sent to Immi Tallgren (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Anna van der Velde (email@example.com).
For the Finnish version of the blog, see https://blogs.helsinki.fi/nakymattoman-juristin-muotokuva/
The photographs on the blog pages have been taken by Immi Tallgren and Anna van der Velde. All portraits are displayed in the halls of the Porthania building of the Helsinki University Law Faculty. For more details on the portraits, please contact Immi Tallgren.