Ilona Niemi


My work deals with beauty and cruelty, and a darker message is often hidden under an attractive disguise. Our human need to beautify manifests itself in manifold today, as social media entices people to portray themselves as more beautiful, popular and intelligent than in physical reality. Such an urge follows us all the way to death, culminating in mortuary make up.

Similarly, my works disguise the sinister under a sugary coating. The disappearance of a childhood friend, Piia, in 1988, shadows my happy childhood memories, and provides a contextual base for exploring opposites such as childhood and adulthood, and beauty and cruelty.  The titles often hint at the darker side of my work. Cute as they first may seem, my 436 plaster ducks in a jail cell represent an equal number of prisoners executed in US prisons in a certain time, or toy silhouettes draw the viewers’ attention to a toyshop destroyed by Nazis during Kristallnacht. My methods are both sensitive and brutal – I paint with a gentle touch and destroy the results with a saw or scissors, creating through the process of destruction.

My favourite artists are Yayoi Kusama, Chantal Joffe, Nicola Tyson, Gary Hume, Hieronymus Bosch, Helene Schjerfbeck, Yoshitomo Nara and Hannah Höch, and favourite writers Eeva Kilpi, Tove Jansson and Marguerite Duras.