Reima Hirvonen: Photo collage.
Reima Hirvonen: Photo collage.

Reima Hirvonen is a visual artist based in Eno.

Jukka Korkeila (b. 1968) is Finnish painter based in Germany. He was born in Hämeenlinna.

Reima Hirvonen & Jukka Korkeila:

“A homosexual was a criminal in Finland between 1894 and 1971. Homosexuality was classified as a disease until 1981. In 1971, the prohibition of incitement was issued, meaning that public incitement to fornication between same sex persons became punishable by law. Prohibition of incitement was overruled in 1999.

It is a disgrace to our society that it has forced us to live as criminals, diseased and in shame, and that our society has defined our love as fornication, ‘licentiousness, or action that offends public sexual morality.’

Chapter 20 section 12 paragraph 1 of the criminal law stated that ‘if one engages in fornication with a person of same sex, both shall be sentenced to a maximum of two years of imprisonment.’ Due to this paragraph little over a thousand people, mostly men, received their sentences.

In addition to personal shame, the shame the society has bestowed upon us lives in us, in me.”

Reima Hirvonen:

“I was born from a strange and wrong seed. I was a cuckoo in the nest. My background was shameful and this shame was a closely kept secret. I learned to be ashamed of myself without knowing why.”

In my childhood home, homosexuality was a gross, scorned and appalling thing. Gay people were not talked about much, but when it was talked about, the words and tone of voice contained ridicule, mockery and contempt. A gay was a disgusting goblin.

I am both a cuckoo in the nest and a goblin who early on recognized the goblin in himself, and who early on learned to be ashamed and hate himself.

Gay people during my childhood and teenage years were people like Monsieur Mosse. Showing off with their bleached hairdos and sparkling jewellery, they made the headlines while being scorned in the sensationalist magazine Hymy. Another kind of representative of the sexual minority was a wretched John Doe, who lived alone in his backwater shack and, in his moment of weakness, dressed up in women’s clothing and engaged in dirty displays of affection with another John Doe. A magazine like Hymy would poke fun at them without mercy.

I was a criminal until the age of eight and with disease until I turned seventeen. And I certainly violated the prohibition of incitement paragraph before it was repealed in 1999.

Go and confess your sins to the painting, a scene from the installation. Photo by Jussi Tiainen.
Go and confess your sins to the painting, a scene from the installation. Photo by Jussi Tiainen.

Jukka Korkeila: Public confession, I hope

When I look at the painting Toivo (‘Hope’) I must go back to the year 1992. I had applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and I just met Mikko Pursiainen (1972–2011), who would be my spouse until his death. During that spring I also realized that I could not become an artist unless I confronted and accepted my gay identity.

This process began way back in the late 80’s, which was the height of the AIDS epidemic. Back then, Finland was a very different country compared to what it is now. The process stemmed from the shame related to my sexual awakening when I noticed as a teenager that I was attracted to boys. I was alone with my desire, terrified, and buried deep in the closet. I hoped someone would take this desire away from me. Homosexuality became a guest that settled in my house for good. This also began my penetration through the layers of sediment of shame created by the society. Making art became one of the instruments in my struggle for survival. In spring 1992, I took part in the entrance examination of the Academy of Fine Arts, and I got in. Here began the artistic process which culminated in creating the painting Toivo in autumn 1995 and putting it on display at the spring exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in spring 1996.

The name of the painting, Toivo, is also a Finnish man’s name. The painting comprises two parts: black and white photorealistic part, which is a frontal picture of Toivo’s naughty tricks with cock rings, whereas the other part consists of abstract gestural painting, and I placed them side by side. After seeing the paintings, Professor Leena Luostarinen said that she has now seen a castrated man, and that these two paintings cannot be joined.

Toivo (‘Hope’), 1995. Photo by Jussi Tiainen
Toivo (‘Hope’), 1995. Photo by Jussi Tiainen

The painting ended up being my 4.2-meter-wide artistic ‘coming out’ work at the spring exhibition of the Academy of Fine Art’s in 1996. At that time, the so-called prohibition of incitement paragraph was still in force, and it could have gotten me in trouble. (When homosexual deeds were removed from Finland’s criminal law in 1971, the so-called prohibition of incitement was enacted to ban same sex people’s public incitement to fornication. Prohibition of incitement was repealed in 1999.)

Putting the Toivo painting on display was tough on me. Consequently, I drank myself dead-drunk at the after party of the exhibition’s opening, after which I came home. On the way to the toilet I passed out on the hallway floor with my pants down. Next morning Mikko told me he had removed a turd nugget from my butt crack and put me to bed. At the same time Mikko took away my shame. When someone’s heart is golden, it can help take away guilt and shame from another person as well. I have never told anyone about this because I was so ashamed of what happened. Passing of time changes thinking and perspective. Since the shame of what happened has dissolved, I can now talk freely about it and see the humour in it. This was the starting point of my on-going process of defeating shame. We are still struggling and working our way to be free of shame.”

 Jukka Korkeila

Paektu mountain’s legend, acrylic on glass, 2023, photo by Jussi Tiainen
Paektu mountain’s legend, acrylic on glass, 2023, photo by Jussi Tiainen