At the crossroads of identities

Kastehelmi Kollmann is a Finnish-German visual artist and a Muslim. She has rejected any identities imposed on her, and choses her own.
Kristiina Markkanen
Riikka Hurri/Otavamedia

Henkilo_600x370”I’m a 23-year old second year art student. I’m half German, half Finnish. It was important for me to study art at university level, because I am interested in art also as an object of academic research. Art enables a profound interpretation of life.

I have been under pressure to choose either a Finnish or German identity, and I cannot be either. I feel I belong to some other, third group. I believe that this experience prepares me to approach different life situations with a more open mind. Painting is the most important way for me to express myself. I have expanded into other means of expression too, such as writing a personal blog, where I add related material. I have also developed an interest in video art and writing, and in the fusion of different media.

I’m currently working on pieces that form a whole through their interlinking ideas. The topic is relocation and immigration and what they do to a person. The work is autobiographical, although my intention is not to directly reveal myself to the viewer. My aim is to let the different elements of the work, such as fictitious characters, reflect my experiences.

An essential part of the identity I have chosen for myself is Islam. I converted to Islam when I was 19.

I was only a little over ten years old in 2001, when the terrorists attacked the World Trade Centre in New York. I remember that day clearly, and I remember how anti-Islam the debate was. I knew nothing about Islam and I could not accept that what happened was a result of a religion that instigates violence.

“Islam does not worship humans.”

I read the Koran in Finnish. I was completely fascinated. The clarity and lyricism of the message made a huge impression on me. I went through a powerful spiritual experience, and yet I had always thought of myself as a highly rational person.

To me, Islam is a religion, not an ideology associated with time and place. I find it interesting that the mainstream media in particular supports the view that Islam is incompatible with our society, that you cannot be a Muslim and Finn at once.

We should acknowledge that Islam offers possibilities for both positive and negative modes of co-existence. I’m often asked, what do I think about terrorism, the obligatory hijab or the fact that Islam forbids homosexuality. I don’t even touch terrorism in my art. It is a choice I am free to make.

I only wear the hijab when in a mosque and when I pray. I am against the pressure that the Islamic community places on women in this matter.

The pressure is real and it is dangerous.

When you look at what Islam says about homosexuality, it is important to bear in mind that the Koran is a text written at a certain period in time. And yet there are passages in the Koran that take an accepting view on homosexuality. Those arguing the issue should not forget that anyone who judges another human being is placing him or herself in the position of God, and this is against the word of Islam.

Islam suits those who want spirituality to have a place in their lives and to guide their lives. Islam draws a clear distinction between the divine and the human. In the western culture, the human being at the centre of everything. For example, our preference for white toilet paper made from new fibres takes priority over our responsibility.

In Islamwe don’t worship humans. There is only one god and a personal relationship with god is enough. There is nobody who holds the “ultimate truth” when it comes to matters of faith, and having faith does not require that you are part of any specific community.

Islam is often seen as a religion that opposes art, as it does not allow for the idolization of images created by man.

The Prophet Mohammed is quoted to have said “He who creates pictures in this world will be ordered to breathe life into them on the Day of Judgment, but he will be unable to do so” (Ibn ’Abbas).

The purpose is to defend religion against idolatry, not to prohibit art.

Kristiina Markkanen is a freelance journalist specialising in culture.

Kastehelmi Kollmann

Lives: Köln, Saksa.
Born: 1991.
Religion: Islam.
Hobbies: watching documentaries, reading, crafts.