Street art has been the subject of much discussion in the Helsinki Region this year. You may have heard or read about the street art project Myyr York hosted by the Vantaa Art Museum Artsi in the neighboring city of Vantaa. But really, you don’t need to leave Helsinki to find creativity on the streets! Earlier this year I decided to spend a few days outdoors walking around the downtown Helsinki to capture some my favorite pieces of urban street art!
As I embarked on the hunt for street art, I inevitably came across the age-old question, what in fact is street art? But then, you might aswell ask “What is art?” And that’s too big a question to tackle here. The street corners everywhere are full of tags, stickers and scribblings, but when does all that become art.. The way I see it, even random writings on walls and electric metre boxes by the street sides can be considered street art, and in the end art is always an individual experience. So, I decided to focus on artwork that most speaks to me, and found myself taking long walks in the old dock yards, roaming under the bridges, and studying electric metre boxes and lamp posts. Actually, what a cool way to explore the city from another point of view!
Suvilahti Area & Graffiti Wall
The largest concentration of street art you’ll find in the neighborhood of Suvilahti, a former port and industrial area just outside the city centre. The area is undergoing a major development process as it’s being transformed into a housing area, but as it won’t be completed until the early 2030s, street art in the area won’t be going anywhere in the near future.
The 100-meter long graffiti wall was the first legal graffiti space in Finland when it was first introduced in 2009. The wall is open daily around the clock and you can even buy paints in the nearby gallery.
The Suvilahti area is also home to a number of cultural activities all year round, including two major music festivals during summer, the Flow and Tuska Open Air Metal Festival. Easiest way to get there is to take a metro to Kalasatama.
The Suvilahti DIY Skate Park has been built from ground up by the skaters themselves and the site serves also as a brilliant backdrop for urban artwork.
Don’t miss out on exploring the vast harbour area of Kalasatama and Sompasaari right beside the power plant! The large harbour containers around the area have been given many make-overs by different artists over the years. And that right there is one of the intriguing characteristics of street art: you might find it there today, but tomorrow another artist may have already taken over the spot!
In the summertime, the lovely container cafe Ihana Kahvila takes over the space at the far south end of the Sompasaari pier, a short walk from the Suvilahti area. It might be a little hard to find, but the adventure through the construction site is certainly worth it, not just for the refreshments and wonderful views, but also for the street art decorating the hundreds of massive harbour containers.
Graffiti is not all about spray paint! Textile graffiti, yarn bombing or knit graffiti are another style of urban street art, also to be found in Suvilahti, next to the graffiti wall.
The construction site of Amos Rex, city centre
A new urban street art wall was opened in the center of Helsinki on the building site of the new art museum Amos Rex in February 2016. Just this past weekend the first set of graffiti was painted over and replaced by a brand new edition.
Baana, the 1,3 km pathway for cyclists and pedestrians leading from the West Harbour area to Kamppi and Töölö Bay area, hosts also a many striking pieces of street art. Commissioned by Helsinki Art Museum, the artwork by artist Janne Siltanen, “Love Helsinki”, decorates the large stone wall close to the former Maria Hospital.
Closer to the city centre under the Runeberginkatu Street bridge, you’ll find another large-scale urban artwork by visual artist Viva Granlund called Intransit (2015).
Another piece by Viva Granlund, named “Queer Helsinki” from 2013-14, can be seen on Teollisuuskatu Street under the Sturenkatu bridge. The underpass is altogether 20m long and 6m high.
One of the most recent additions to the large-scale mural paintings in Helsinki was created in one of the city’s best-known hubs of creativity, the Arabianranta district. In 2015, an apartment building located at Hämeentie 128 underwent a unique makeover at the hands of artist Jukka Hakanen, who decorated the building’s facade with an artwork depicting the Arabia district, reaching upwards of eight meters in height.
Visual artist Jussi TwoSeven is maybe best known for his works depicting animal images that come with an added twist. “Bubo Bubo”, a wall mural from October 2015, guards the streets of Itä-Pasila on Ratamestarinkatu under the Vislauskuja bridge.
In the former working-class neighbourhood of Kallio, creativity has always been part of the lifestyle of its residents. Artists and bohemians have for decades found their way to the many tiny Kallio apartments, studios, bars & pubs and secondhand stores, and of course left their mark in the neighborhood. Therefore, it’s not surprising that there’s a rainbow of street art in all its forms waiting to be explored! Just head on over there and keep a close eye on everything your visual eye catches – you won’t be disappointed.
The most unique example of street art in Helsinki might just be hiding in the gutter on Torkkelinmäki, the heart of Kallio, in the corner of Franzeninkuja and Torkkelinkuja. If you’re now thinking, she must mean the colorful electric metre box in the background.. No.
If you listen closely to the rainwater well in the forefront, you might be more than surprised. “Finnair flight to Amsterdam departs from gate 29..”
All photos: Riitta Kokkonen