Artist Sini-Meri Hedberg turned Sonia O. Was Here into a painting. Photo: Pasi Leino
Artist Sini-Meri Hedberg was ten years old when Sonia O. Was Here came out in 1981. Naturally, she was unaware of the controversy caused by the book: events on the literary scene do not rank high among the interests of a ten-year-old.
Hedberg discovered the book ten years later, in her early twenties.
“I was reading a great deal of Finnish literature at the time. I was impressed by how powerfully and honestly Sonia O. Was Here describes youth, but it was difficult for me to relate to Sonia. I was a more bashful young woman,” says Hedberg.
ANOTHER TEN YEARS passed before Sonia came back into her life.
In 2002, Hedberg was studying at the Turku Arts Academy. An exhibition of paintings by students was being put together for the Turku Book Fair. The exhibition, Love Scenes, was based on books by Finnish authors.
“We were given a list of books to choose from. I immediately recognized a familiar name, made my choice, and read the book again. The book was the same as I remembered, but I had changed, meaning that my perception of Sonia had also changed,” Hedberg explains.
“I wanted to capture her inner fire, which stimulated my imagination. I was fascinated by her inner strength.”
IN HER WORKS, Hedberg often portrays emotions and inner journeys. She always looks within, even when painting a landscape, for example.
“Sonia O. Was Here is a universal portrayal of humanity. The novel focuses more on making her inner world visible than on depicting events,” Hedberg says.
“My painting is an abstract work portraying the feeling of strength. The red depicts power, and the black represents movement.”
HEDBERG SAYS that the painting based on Sonia O. Was Here was a natural continuation of her previous work. It was also an inspiration for an inner dialogue.
“Sonia is so bold, and I was timid and ashamed of many things about myself at the time. I wondered whether I could become bolder and adopt more Sonia-like features, some of her fire. However, through my inner dialogue, I came to the conclusion that I’m actually happy with myself, even with my inhibitions.”
Hedberg is proud of the power of womanhood that the book represents and that her painting portrays. The themes continue to be relevant: Who am I? What is womanhood? What is sexuality? What are my boundaries?
THE PAINTING WAS one of the first works that Hedberg displayed publicly.
Snellman saw the painting at the book fair and immediately recognized her main character in the combination of vibrant red and stark black. The work was sold to a woman who recognized something of herself in the painting.
Hedberg held her first private exhibition a year after the book fair.
“After my daughter was born, I found myself using lighter reds in my paintings. Perhaps the rebellious red turned into a more healing force, toward pink. However, the fire is still there, in occasional bouts of darker red among the more serene colors.”
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