The artist behind the Invisible Empire
Juha's art has always inspired and amazed me. A simple picture of authority, black in black, faceless, emotionless, minimal, and authoritarian.
The tall artist who has been raised and has lived in the suburbs as a typical Finnish kid has a dark and gloomy imagination. He shares his memories of becoming a horror movie fan as a young boy and typically wearing black clothes for as long as he can remember. Perhaps the opacity of the Finnish fall also has something to do with Juha's art.
The Invisible Empire started when Juha witnessed the brutality of the police force in Helsinki amongst the protesters. The Finnish police enjoy the trust amongst the population in Finland. According to statistics, 95% of the people in Finland trust the police. However, witnessing an unusual situation from the police force triggered the events of the photo series, the Invisible Empire.
How did you become a photographer?
Juha: I wanted to create my images using Photoshop, which was my first interest. I studied as a graphic designer in Tikkurila. As an intern photographer for Imagine Magazine, I made a lot of different varieties of images and also developed my skills as an artist. I wanted to create and illustrate my visions, and this is how I focused on disrupting the normative regulations as different impressions while feeding my interest in anti-normative pieces.
Tell us about your Famous Work, the Invisible Empire.
Juha: I started to do the Invisible Empire in 2008 while photographing the diploma work of fashion design students. I asked them to make me a conehead queen outfit because, at that time, my interest in character design was fervent. My first photo 'Black Wedding' was a man and a woman standing side by side and holding hands surprisingly started to spread on the internet. I began to make similar portraits that grew up as a narrative of the human condition.
Juha: The Invisible Empire is a combination of strong aesthetics and our vigorous emotions towards political and religious attire. There are strong feelings when seeing my simple black portraits. It discusses the narrow mindsets of people and the abuse of power, especially in religion and politics. I've tried to abandon the ethnicity because all of us humans are as foolish, smart, and as lovely at the same time.
Juha: Nothing really happens in my black pictures. To me, there must be room for interpretations. For example, the couple in the wedding picture, someone has seen it as a wedding picture, and another has seen it in as a couple in front of an execution company.
How is your art been taken internationally?
Juha: My art has been taken well internationally. It started to spread on the internet, and I started giving interviews for international publications. After that, I've started to get invitations to exhibitions. Last year, my pictures were exhibited in four continents. The first group exhibition was in Colombia, and after that, my work has been in countries like Japan, USA, France, Ethiopia, all together in about 12 countries.
Juha: I believe that countries like Colombia and Nepal are interested in my art because both have experienced civil war and political turmoil. For example, when local police in Turkey started to intimidate liberal youth students, I received messages that they hoped my exhibitions should have been there because my subjects were so current in Turkey. I think people are interested in my photos as misuse of power is sadly so universal.
How has Finland appreciated your art?
Juha: Finland has helped me as an artist in the form of art grants. As Finland is doing well on many fronts, it's not surprising that my art has not so much need up here in the north. Of course, there's always a room for improvement.
Juha: Most of my photos are historical, but I have presented current affairs such as the refugee crisis and the behavior of the riot police. My art is basically international, and I haven't proactively promoted my work in Finland. I'm more interested in the international audience as my art is global.
My art is about "US" humans, not the xenophobic us and them thinking. The way I see it, "evil" is that the greatest of crimes have always been made in the belief we are doing something good with a sacrificial heart. The bad in every society is always a minority and cannot really do crimes as effectively as the majority. My art underlines this. Keep the "good" on the right path is a job for us all.
What do you do presently and what are your plans for the future?
I'm working on commercial photos. I've done portraits, promo material for bands, for example, the "Blow-Up" festival in Helsinki and have started to do sculpture as well. I challenge myself in learning new ways to do art. I've found that Youtube is a great way to learn, for example, silicon mold-making and resin-casting. The Invisible Empire is a massive project and I'll continue to do more photos surrounding this project. In the future, I hope for more solo exhibitions, exciting encounters, discussions, and new adventures. I try to stay curious.