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Hiljainen Kansa: the Silent People of Finland

3 min read

An eerie art installation located in a barren field in the Finnish countryside recently went viral after someone accidentally stumbled upon it while searching something on Google Maps.
With quarantine and isolation measures still in place in many countries around the world due coronavirus pandemic, people are spending a lot of time online looking for cool places to visit staying on their sofa. That’s exactly why some museums and libraries around the world have introduced virtual tours to visit their spaces also in quarantine.
But not everyone is interested in museums, or libraries. Some people, expecially these days, are looking for cool places to visit once they can travel again. Many using free tools like Google Maps and that’s probably how some people recently discovered The Silent People, a creepy-looking art installation that left them scratching their heads about why anyone would fill a field with hundreds of scarecrows and dress them as real people.

Seen from afar, the curious installation looks like a perfectly still army of people, and it’s only when you take a closer look that you realize that the figures are made up of peat heads covered in straw hair and simple wooden bodies draped with colorful clothing. Even knowing that it’s an art installation, you still feel uneasy looking at the about 1200 still figures. But knowing absolutely nothing about it and sudeny finding it on Google Maps can really freak you out!

The relatively macabre installation is located on Highway 5, outside of Suomussalmi, in Finland’s countryside, and this is a work by artist Reijo Kela. The immobile army seems to stand watch over the road, but despite their stationary appearance, they haven’t always stood here in this lonely field off of the highway.
Inaugurated way back in 1988, The Silent People, or “Hiljainen kansa” in Finnish, was originally located in a field in Lassila, a neighborhood of Helsinki. It was then moved in the Market Place of Helsinki’s Senate Square, and after a stint on the banks of the Jalonuoma river, Ämmänsaari, in 1994 they made their way here to Highway 5, eliciting questions and curiosity to all who pass.

It is the Suomussalmi Youth Workshop that maintains The Silent People, changing the clothes of the wooden figures twice a year, using clothes collected through donation. Reportedly some visitors to the location occasionally exchange their dresses with those of the scarecrow figures, which somehow makes this offbeat attraction even creepier.
However, if you’re feeling curious about what Reijo Kela wanted his Silent People to symbolize, he refuses to give any sort of explanation, preferring the viewer use their own perception to define it. People have been speculating about the meaning of the installation for decades, but so far there are only theories.
Some view it as a state of psychological withdrawal some as forgotten people, and the most popular version is that the figures represent those lost lives during a fierce battle that took place nearby during the Winter War of 1939-1940 between Finland and Soviet Russia. Stripped of the heads and clothes more than 1000 wooden crosses would be seen in the field.

Images from web – Google Research

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