Visual artist Raakel Kuukka is FCINY’s artist-in-residency for the month of November 2017. Kuukka draws inspiration for her photography and video work from her family history with an emphasis on themes such as life after war, emigration, and cultural identity.
From her previous residency in New York in 2002 Raakel Kuukka particularly remembers being struck by the vast amounts of art constantly on view in the city’s numerous museums and galleries. This abundance offered Kuukka a destabilizing viewpoint into her own artistic practice. “It forced me to become more conscious about the significance of my own background and the ways to channel that into my work.”
Since the beginning of her career in the 1980s, the main subjects of Raakel Kuukka’s work have been her own family and its roots in Karelia, a historical province of Eastern Finland that was ceded to Russia at the end of World War 2. Irja’s Story (2006), for instance, builds upon the wartime memories of Kuukka’s aunt who was a child at the time. Night Garden (2011), which Kuukka describes as one of her most personal works, takes the viewer to the garden of Kuukka’s childhood home in Southeastern Finland.
Kuukka also poses questions about cultural identity through her ongoing photography series on her daughter Rebekka, whose father is from Ghana. One of Kuukka’s best-known photos is Rebekka and the National Costume (2003) in which her then 7-year-old daughter wears a Finnish national costume. “What does our appearance tell about us? I have been compelled to deal with questions on ethnicity and looking different in a very practical way through my daughter who has lived all her life in Finland yet she does not look like the most stereotypical Finn with blond hair and blue eyes.”
Two of Kuukka’s portraits of her daughter were included in the exhibition Bodies, Borders, Crossings produced by FCINY. The exhibition was first presented on Governors Island in New York in 2011, after which it was shown in Norway, Finland, Peru, and Uruguay between 2013 and 2014.
During her residency in New York, Kuukka plans to continue her portrait series Like Mother Like Daughter, in which she appears together with Rebekka, who will also be joining Kuukka in New York for the length of her residency.