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Who Is an Animal?

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Who Is an Animal? invites audiences to reflect on a subject that is identifiable yet ultimately a mystery. The exhibition explores art’s ability to help us understand the challenges of coexistence, human-imposed hierarchies and the commonalities that unite humans and other living beings.

Esko Männikkö: Untitled (detail), 2005. HAM Helsinki Art Museum. Photo: Yehia Eweis

The animal kingdom has intrigued artists through the ages, and animals are among the oldest classic subjects in Western art. Curated mostly from Helsinki’s City-owned art collections, Who is an Animal? features 91 works by 48 artists, including photographs, videos, paintings, sculptures, graphic art and installations spanning from the late 19th century to the present day.

The exhibits are grouped thematically under animals as individuals, challenges of coexistence with humans, altered habitats and animal agency. Animals are spotlighted with warmth and humour in this exhibition curated by HAM’s curator Sanna Juntunen.

The human claim of superiority over other species has resulted in accelerated biodiversity loss and other drastic consequences. Many artists today are questioning and exposing the specious nature of human-made hierarchies. Although we cannot escape the limitations of being human, we can foster hope of a fairer coexistence through speculative imagining, radical empathy and acceptance of species equality.

As part of the exhibition, HAM has also invited sociologist Salla Tuomivaara to join in a discussion about animals that are conspicuous by their absence in human-made art.

Despite its serious underlying themes, the exhibition is also suitable for younger members of the family. We have compiled a creature trail inviting kids to explore the exhibition through play and fun activities.

The featured artists are Jasmin AnoschkinMikko CarlstedtHelge Dahlman, E. DupreEeva-Leena EklundGabriel EngbergHilda Maria FlodinTerike HaapojaMikko HaikoMari Hallapuro, Jussi HeikkiläLeila Hietala-HämäläinenReino HietanenMaiju HukkanenPaula HumbergKati ImmonenAppu JasuAnja JuurikkalaEsko KaarakkaIsmo KajanderSanna KannistoKaija KontulainenAnne KoskinenAura KotkavirtaPaula LehtonenMaija LuutonenLotta MattilaEsko MännikköLotta MäättänenHeikki NieminenPirkko Nukari, Tuula NärhinenDennis OppenheimRoland PerssonAnna RetulainenLiisa RuusuvaaraStiina SaaristoPentti Sammallahti, Joakim SederholmVerner ThoméHeli TiitinenFrans ToikkanenRitva TuomiGunnar UotilaThom VinkHanna WeseliusVictor Westerholm and Helena Öst.

Who Is An Animal? coincides with Nastja Säde Rönkkö: Survival Guide for a Post-Apocalyptic Child in the adjacent grand gallery. Together the two exhibitions invite audiences to reflect on the inter-connectedness of all living things and the fundamental importance of empathy.

Featured artworks

Hanna Weselius: Rockafella in His Upstairs Room, 1999. HAM Helsinki Art Museum. Photo: Marja Pursiainen.
Verner Thomé: Bull, 1901. HAM Helsinki Art Museum. Photo: Hanna Kukorelli.
Gabriel Engberg: Magpie (undated). HAM Helsinki Art Museum. Photo: Sonja Hyytiäinen.

Ritva Tuomi: Carnations, 2005. HAM Helsinki Art Museum. Photo: Hanna Kukorelli.
Eeva-Leena Eklund: Pim, 2003. HAM Helsinki Art Museum. Photo: Yehia Eweis.
Joakim Sederholm: Kajsa, 2000. HAM Helsinki Art Museum. Photo: Martiina Mäkinen.

Installation views

Photos: HAM/Sonja Hyytiäinen