Alison Wiklund Full Documentary

Uploaded by krmckaye on 20.05.2012

Drawing has always been a passion since childhood and I have noticed during my travels, how a sketchpad, pen and brush are like a talisman
These lucky charms have protected me from all harm during long journeys - which somehow confirms the saying:
God protects fools and drunks...and I belong to the former
Alison in the Big World
A Story About Artist Alison Wiklund
I came to live in this part of Helsinki (Katajanokka/Skatudden) in 1978 where I have a small studio.
Over the years, Finland has been a base for travel and exploration in different parts of the world.
(Bicycling is my favourite form of transport, sometimes even in snowy conditions…note the ice-breakers moored in the background)
In 1992 I went to work in Nicaragua for the Finnish NGO KEPA for 4 years and then moved to the USA
working with tropical biologist Kenneth McKaye and environmental education projects within the University of Maryland System.
However, I currently have a foot on 3 continents: the conservation organization, WWF USA, became interested in
funding an environmental education project related to Lake Malawi National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site in Malawi, Africa.
This project, funded by WWF USA, began in 1998 and was conducted with primary school children in Chembe village.
The aim was to raise their awareness about deforestation, as well as the significance of snail-eating fish in controlling
the numbers of snails that in turn, had also caused a marked increase in the debilitating disease bilharzia
The children were taught to make hand-made paper and to draw the snail-eating fish on their own paper
with the additional aim of providing the children with a potential income from their artistic cards.
Soon after, in 2001- WWF Finland became interested in continuing further conservation projects in Lake Malawi National Park.
In addition, we set up environmental education courses for children
- using art as a tool to develop observation skills and a heightened appreciation of their natural resources.
(WWF Finland then founded and funded the Malawian NGO HEEED Malawi ( to ensure continuity of WWF's holistic approach toward conservation of natural resources in Lake Malawi)
(National Park: the acronym HEEED stands for Health, Education, Environment and Economic Development of communities living adjacent to Lake Malawi National Park)
(I continue to work as environmental education advisor for HEEED, encouraging the development of a strong handicraft component)
(and continuing to work closely with the relevant departments of the Government of Malawi.)
(Images of my childhood in Portugal)
My sister and I grew up in a small village outside Lisbon, in Portugal
Dad was of Irish descent, Mum was English and I was always conscious of being a foreigner in Portugal.
This feeling was particularly reinforced by our two maids who were unable to read or write but had a vivid imagination.
Mum and Dad were often away in the evenings and, because we did not belong to the Roman Catholic Church the maids would dress up as ghosts
hide in a cupboard telling us that God could see us everywhere and terrify
us kids with tales of hell-fire and damnation because of our heathen ways
Eventually, at around age 12, my parents decided to send me to boarding school in the UK
- as I could not matriculate at the British school in Portugal.
As the only girl from abroad, my foreign "ways" and I were the butt of many jokes from fellow students -
who thought I wore an exotic Hawaiian hoola-hoop skirt in Portugal
It was not easy at first and my parents were unaware of this struggle.
However, one learned to adapt. (Finding great solace in music, playing the piano, and drawing)
After graduating from high-school, I had no confidence in my abilities to draw
because the art teacher did not approve of my approach
Then one day, a professional painter, Russell Reeve, visited our home in Portugal in 1964.
He looked at my drawings and paintings and suggested that I apply to Hornsey College of Art in London - where he taught drawing.
(This unexpected spark of interest in my art work kindled a fire within me and my direction became clear.)
(I am in my studio in Helsinki reviewing some of the various techniques of work done at Hornsey College)
The Fine Arts Department (at Alexandra Palace in North London) was a particularly stimulating environment
and permitted me to freely experiment in a variety of media: oil painting, silk-screen printing, etching and stained glass.
I was particularly interested in still-life themes and enjoyed playing with a particular image
- using different silkscreen-printing and etching techniques.
(I was at Hornsey College of Art for 5 Years: from 1965 to 1970.)
Indeed London in the swinging 60s was an exciting place and time
- where the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others were creating an impact world-wide
Also our college, in June 1968 was part of the student sit-ins
and happenings that followed from the earlier May student riots in Nanterre, France.
London was never boring for a student with access to museums, concerts and all kinds of experimental activities.
It was at art college that I met Carola Gahmberg (Palmgren)
studying ceramics in the 3D Department of Hornsey College of Art (now Middlesex University)
We became flat-mates and friends .
(We had our first joint exhibition at the Rotunda Gallery in North London. )
(I also showed some of my etchings at 2 successive Summer Exhibitions at the Royal Academy)
While at Art college I had found a student-exchange summer job in Vaaksy, Finland
and spent a memorable 5 weeks on this beautiful rural farm with the Lusila family and their 18-month-old daughter Pia.
(That was high summer, my first initiation into a smoke sauna swimming in crystalline lakes, walking in majestic forests)
(quite a contrast to the snowy scene here when, 35 years later, I went to visit Juha and Kirsi Lusila in their home at Asikkala)
In 1968 my lack of Finnish meant Juha, the husband and I could not understand one another and now we were able to converse in Finnish
In contrast with Kirsi, his wife, we spoke to each other in English and that was the purpose
- so that their infant daughter Pia would learn English at a very young age
Through my Finnish friend, Carola, I met many of her Finnish friends in London, including Kio Wiklund and we were married in 1970
His passion was rally-driving and I was quickly introduced into that world.
This lead us to Africa in 1971, to Kenya - where Kio drove in the East Africa Safari Rally.
(As a result, I was able to explore and sketch in remote corners of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya)
I earned a little money as a ""Girl Friday"" in the East African Safari Rally Office in Nairobi
Kio then persuaded me to be the navigator in several rallies in Spain, followed by the Greek Acropolis Rally in 1972
However, after 2 years of nomadic adventures, we decided to return to Finland and lead a more settled life.
I began to learn Finnish and we both looked for work.
Kio eventually bought an old Danish trawler and began salmon fishing.
On his 2nd journey I was suddenly roped in to be the 3rd crew-member
- standing in for one who was sick
There were some exciting moments during those memorable 4 days of fishing.
Everything seemed to go wrong: the wind blew, we lost the papers showing the coordinates for the net positions...
...while the net was caught in the propeller
Nevertheless we managed to catch 56 salmon.
At the same time, I was teaching art classes and also painting and scenes from the trawl harbours were a regular subject of interest
(In 1978 I began to exhibit my work in Helsinki at what was then called the Hagelstam Gallery.)
(Solveig Lindqvist was then managing the Gallery, as well as working as a specialist in the restoration of antique paintings.)
(She has always been helpful in the selection process of my art-work images for exhibitions)
(Here I am in her studio in Helsinki - seeking her advice about some print for an exhibition in 2006)
I am discussing with Solveig whether there should be a darker background for certain prints entitled “Celebration” -
looking at the different qualities of paper, different versions of a series and how these should be mounted and framed….
(Solveig is currently running a small gallery called S Lindqvist Projects in)
(Helsinki - where some of my art-work is on show)
(The lakeshore village of Chembe, – the largest in Malawi with a population of 17,000)
(where WWF Finland used to hold environmental education classes, using art as a tool )
Through drawing the unique indigenous flora and fauna of Lake Malawi National Park,
my aim is to awaken in these youngsters an awareness and appreciation of their natural resources.
There is also opportunity for discussion about deforestation and over-fishing and what is their concept/ hope for future generations.
These students are learning to observe and also identify what they are drawing.
Here you can see some examples of their art-work
They also learn how to write clearly - as this also belongs to their overall training.
The best ones can be exhibited and also become saleable items to tourists and this, of course, represents an economic benefit.
I show Francis’ example of a buffalo and Steve’s example of a rock rabbit.
Many students are very talented and maybe some of these will go on to become full-time artists.
When the students go home with their drawings of fish, for example -
the hope is that the father, in particular, will understand the importance of not fishing too close to the shore -
thus permitting the breeding of fish, particularly the placodon –
a species that eats the snail that is host to the schistasome/parasite that causes bilharzia.
Thus, by this process of communication, children will learn to value their natural resources
(Flashback to my earlier studies in Chinese brush-painting)
I felt that my painting studies were incomplete and in 1979, found a master painter in Singapore -
Nai Swee Leng, who – during a 3 month period taught me the technique of Chinese brush-painting -
with particular focus on bamboo, flowers and birds.
These lessons were pivotal and this inspired me to go to China in 1982 by train across Siberia to Beijing.
(Many bicycles and blue suits were then still much in evidence on this memorable journey)
Eventually I arrived in Canton where there was a different atmosphere to Northern China.
I enjoyed their distinctive cooking and, while out walking in the town - I met a young university student, Fei -
who was very friendly and introduced me to her family – thus providing me with a small glimpse into family life in China at that time.
We became friends and when she learned that Kio and I were interested in adopting a child -
Fei proved to be an important player in this process.
She rang us here in Finland in January of 1986 - to inform us of a little girl about to be born in April.
So in May, we travelled to Beijing to meet our new 6-week-old daughter.
This was indeed a happy moment, we called our daughter Mei Mei and then brought her back home to Finland.
(Trollviken, Oby, Finland)
We first came to this area in 1973 and the house was enlarged from a small sauna into a larger structure -
so that we could adopt children and, later (via my cousin in Hong Kong)-
we learnt that Mei Mei could have a little sister – who was awaiting adoption in Thailand.
(I am scrubbing potatoes at the sea-water’s edge, in Finland with Leila, our second daughter, beside me)
Mei Mei, who travelled with us to Bangkok, thought she was going to have a doll to play with -
and was somewhat disappointed when, Leila – by then 18 months old, was not so small after all.
After a while she became curious about this new little girl, overcame little moments of sibling rivalry -
And thus a new era of family life began.
Meanwhile, the fishing business was not going so well in Finland, including Kio´s business -
so he responded to an advertisement in the newspaper from KEPA Finnish Development Cooperation) in Finland.
This organization was seeking a fishing specialist in Nicaragua and ultimately we both gave us jobs in Nicaragua.
This was going to be in contrast to our rural way of life…
My job was in a Cultural Centre called Casa de los Tres Mundos, in Granada-
an old Spanish colonial city and we soon adapted to a whole new way of life in our house nearby – also built in the old colonial style.
Mei Mei and Leila went to the local school, learnt Spanish and, indeed spoke to each other in Spanish -
although speaking English with me and Swedish with their father.
Casa de los Tres Mundos was founded during the Sandinista era.
My job was to begin a programme of art courses for both children and adults -
also organize exhibitions and later, teacher-training courses.
The initial plan was to teach children how to draw and paint.
However, when I arrived, there was no money for materials and so I began to look about my environment with new eyes.
For example, I found different coloured clay in the river-bed nearby which, when mixed with a basic glue - could be used as paint.
In addition, I discovered that the hair from the nape of a girl’s neck could be used to make a paint brush.
There was also no drawing paper and so we learned how to make hand-paper from waste and from organic materials, masks -
Thus I realized just how much could be creatively recycled.
My teaching work then took me out to Corn Island on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where we lived for 18 months.
Here we received funding to build art-rooms in two different schools and I began giving art courses to 40 of the local teachers
Undoubtedly, the Caribbean coast had a different tempo of life and the local culture was very relaxed -
in strong contrast to Granada, on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua
We lived near the sea-shore and I was fortunate in having my studio right on the beach-
and where I could watch the fishermen go about their tasks with the lobster traps
Parts of Corn Island had been hit by a strong hurricane in 1989 and which destroyed many houses.
As a result, there were many stone steps in the middle of gardens …leading nowhere…
and this seemed an apt metaphor for some aspects for this island and a subject for some of my drawings.
My 50th birthday was also celebrated on the beach: all the local children were invited -
each was given a balloon and it was truly a joyful sight to watch them running happily along the shore.
This moment became the inspiration for a series of prints entitled “Celebration”.
It was in Nicaragua that I divorced and where I also met Ken –
a research professor at the Center for Environmental Science, Frostburg, University of Maryland, USA .
We moved to Frostburg, about 2 and 1/2 hours N.W. of Washington D.C. and where I began work in environmental education.
Ken too was newly divorced and in June 1996, with his two children, we became a blended family of 6.
This was a whole new experience for all of us: in the beginning it seemed more like a collision of primate groups
But we all eventually adapted and the children went to the local school.
However, after 4 years -
I felt that both Mei Mei and Leila might benefit from greater contact with their father in Finland -
as well as with another culture – at least for a year.
When we arrived in Finland we wondered whether WWF Finland might also be interested in participating-
in the ongoing conservation project in Lake Malawi National Park, originally funded by WWF USA in 1998
(WWF Finland did indeed begin a series of conservation projects related to Lake Malawi National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site)
(and later Liwonde National Park and thus began a new phase in which Ken and I began to work more closely in Malawi.)
Before leaving for Nicaragua in 1992 I had begun a series of dancing figures in a variety of media -
inspired by a memorable visit to Turkey during the Whirling Dervish festival in Konya, in 1978.
Their graceful, whirling movements, evocative of the planets turning around the sun, seemed a metaphor for dynamic rhythms, for Life itself
Indeed, the current work was begun 10 years ago… a collage about a meeting between beings from 2 different planets
…still unfinished and we don’t know what happens
It is one of several themes that continues to fascinate and who knows… the work may take another 10 years to complete.
(As part of the WWF Finland project, we are at meeting a of Chiefs in the Mangochi district of Malawi to)
(demonstrate the use of fuel briquettes, how to use portable cement stoves and promote these in cooking food)
Deforestation continues to be a huge problem in the area.
(leading to soil erosion, increased bilharzia along the lake-shore and also HIV/AIDS)
and so we have been encouraging the production of organic fuel briquettes, instead of chopped fire-wood
(seen on the bicycle)
And the use of cement (or mud) stoves instead of the wasteful 3-stone fire.
(Young girls are often not sent to school and, instead - )
(used as “free labour” to collect fire-wood in the nearby Lake Malawi National Park)
There are only 24 hours in the day… together we have 4 children and we try to balance everybody’s particular needs.
This is not always easy and I often feel like the many-armed “Shiva” – trying to be organized, balanced.
But I believe we are succeeding, helped by clear communication.
Undoubtedly, the children have gained much from this experience.
(in my flat in Helsinki, with my daughter, Leila, at the piano …while Mei Mei watches from the sofa)