Mari Sunna

Ars Fennica candidate 2005

born 1972 in Espoo, lives in London

Mari Sunna occupies a region on the edges of obscurity. Her women do not live their lives in the daylight, but are creatures that emerge from the nebulous stream of people in the metropolises, from memories and states of mind, frequently also from art history. She shows how woman has been a sphinx’s head, a model twisted into various poses, an elegant geisha in a Japanese woodcut, the self-portrait of a woman artist.

In her paintings Sunna makes woman visible and invisible at the same time. She overturns traditions in art by permitting her women some intimacy. They flicker across the surface of the painting, pay it a brief visit and disappear off somewhere into their own stories. They cloak their existence, surrendering only a tiny hint of themselves to art.

Her women are rarely complete, often being only fragments, outlines, a waft of hair in rapid motion. One striking feature is their facelessness. A woman holds a mirror in her hand, but the reflection is empty. A woman stands in a magnificent portrait, her hair decorated by an enormous piece of headgear, but she has no face.

We are bound to compare Sunna to Helene Schjerfbeck. Schjerfbeck, too, painted lots of pictures of women, but they did not portray her models. Her models’ faces became anonymous, and were simplified into strokes of paint, concealed behind layers of white. In one of her self-portraits Schjerfbeck has concentrated on her hair and left the face almost totally blank.

Sunna’s art is not art for the possessing viewer. She does deploy her skills to impose on, flatter, or seduce her audience. The viewer can easily develop a sense of being an outsider here, an intruding stranger, fleetingly privileged to peep inside a world of images.

Pirjo Hämäläinen

b. 1972, Espoo


Chelsea College of Art and Design, MA course in Fine Art, London

Free Art School, Helsinki

Lahti Design Institute, Lahti


The Approach, London

Finsk-Norsk Kulturinstitutt, Oslo
Galerie Anhava, Helsinki

Galerie Anhava/ project room, Helsinki
The Approach, London

Galerie Anhava, Helsinki

Gallery of the Finnish Institute, Stockholm
A Scent More Mature than Childhood, Galerie Anhava, Helsinki

Gestures, Cable Gallery, Helsinki


Biennale of Sydney
Art Brussels / Galerie Anhava
Vasta Maalattu – Peiture Fraîche, Le Triage, Nanterre
Inside Out, Milton Keynes Gallery, Central Milton Keynes

Dirty Paintings, The approach, London

S.1972, Kunsthalle Helsinki
Chamois, MOT, London
Kultur-Raume Norden: An der Schwelle des Unbekanten, Bayer, Leverkusen
Galleries Show 2002: Contemporary Art in London, Royal Academy, London
The Armory Show / The approach, New York
Nausea: Encounters with Ugliness, Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham, G.B, London Print Studio, London

Brighton Icons, THE CAP, Brighton
Art in St Magdalene Church and Crypt, CAP, London
Baltic Painting Biennale, Väsby Art Exhibition Hall, Sweden
Polarflex, Aroma Project Space, Berlin

MA Fine Art Show, Chelsea College A & D, London
Galerie Anhava, Helsinki

Many Ways of Painting, Galerie Anhava, Helsinki
Brainstorm, Goldsmith College of Art, London
Cable Gallery, Helsinki
Borey Art Gallery, St Petersburg
Homes for Broken Mind Campaign, various venues in Finland
Boxing, Myyrmäki House, Vantaa

Maarja Gallery, Tallinn
10 m2, BA Fine Art Show of the Free Art School, Cable Factory, Helsinki


Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki
Amos Anderson Museum
Sara Hildén Art Museum
Tampere City
The Saastamoinen Foundation, Espoo
The Nelimarkka Foundation, Helsinki
Paulo Foundation, Helsinki


Deutche Bank
Frank Cohen Collection
Saatchi Collection
Apoteksbolagets Konstförening, Sweden
Nordisk Akvarellmuseet, Sweden