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Gallery: Pärnu sees Finnish Heljä, Viggo Wallensköld's first joint art show

Since the turn of the century, Viggo Wallensköld has emerged as one of Finland's most outstanding painters. His and his mother Heljä's roots, however, can be traced back to the Pärnu area, where a museum in Estonia's biggest coastal city just opened the mother-son duo's first ever joint exhibition.

Around a century earlier, Wallensköld's grandmother Ilse was born on the Tori Parish farm of Ollandi, on the right bank of the Pärnu River. When only just barely an adult, Ilse went to Finland to study agriculture, where she ended up falling in love, getting married and giving birth to a child named Heljä. The family remained living in Porvoo, east of Helsinki, where Heljä would eventually give birth in turn to Viggo.

Opening at the Museum of New Art (MONA) in Pärnu on Saturday, February 10, "Roots and Blossoms" ("Juured ja õied") features a series of paintings by Viggo and Heljä Wallensköld in the parent-child duo's first ever joint exhibition.

Heljä and Viggo Wallensköld's "Roots and Blossoms" exhibition at the Museum of New Art (MONA) in Pärnu. February 2024. Source: Marie Virta

Viggo Wallensköld's breakthrough as an artist came in 2002, when he won the prestigious Ducat Prize (Dukatti), Finland's oldest art award. In 2005, he was also named Finland's Young Artist of the Year.

In 2021, the painter was nominated for the Ars Fennica Award, and was chosen as audience favorite in the Ars Fennica 2021 exhibit at Hämeenlinna Art Museum the following February.

"Wallensköld's paintings explore the physical diversity of humans and our ability to cope with difference," Ars Fennica Art Foundation described, announcing the win. "He himself has said that his paintings emerge from a sense of shame, his own experience of otherness. From the early 2000s onward, he has explored body positivity and nonbinary identities. His treatment of these topics is characterized by its restraint and emotional deftness. The people depicted in his paintings do not represent a stereotypical physicality but nevertheless expect to be seen. Visibility matters."

Wallensköld's first major solo show took place from 2008-2009 at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, with subsequent exhibitions to follow at the Barabás Villa in Budapest, Hungary, in 2016 and the Maison Louis Carré in France – a building designed by Finnish modernist architects Elissa and Alvar Aalto – in 2018, among others.

"By depicting atypical bodies, his most well-known works question normality and prejudices," the Finnish Institute in Hungary FinnAgora said, announcing the exhibition "Ladies" in 2016. "His paintings show intersexual, obese, anorexic or deformed people who definitely differ from the normative beauty standards. Although his characters are not simply different or malformed, they do not come from the garden of otherness – they all have their own values and unique personalities and there is always a story to tell."

More recently, the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) likewise opened a major solo exhibition of the artist's work in fall 2022.

Turning 81 this year, Heljä Wallensköld remains living in Porvoo, where she continues to paint each morning.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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