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The artist who fell in love with Africa
Antonia Ringbom uses guidebooks and animation to educate African youth
By Säde Nenonen
Artist Antonia Ringbom noticed already in the 1950s that the accumulation of age does not mean an end to creative ability. An example of this for her was her great aunt, artist Ellen Thesleff, who worked until the end of her life at the Lallukka artists' home in Helsinki.
"She was something like a sorceress", Ringbom says, recalling Thesleff, one of Finland's leading artists at the time.
"But she encouraged me when I drew. I was her pet", Ringbom says.
Now Ringbom herself has wanted to inspire young people both here in Finland and in Africa.
Ringbom's touch is familiar from about 100 animated films shown over the years on television. Many will especially remember the Aurinko on keltainen kirahvi ("The Sun is a Yellow Giraffe") TV series. Books have also been produced on the basis of the films.
In order to get into the right mood for the production of the art work in The Yellow Giraffe, Ringbom travelled to Senegal in 1997 to visit the Centre Arc centre. The Finnish-run institution outside Dakar was used by local artists. Ringbom taught in the school and worked with street children.
In 1998 she helped set up the RIAC cultural centre, for the purpose of helping artists, artisans, and the unemployed to network with each other. The centre was set up in a Dakar suburb. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has helped fund its activities from the very beginning.
Ringbom has headed courses for animation and drawing at the centre each year. The courses have been attended by hundreds of young people from the slums of Dakar. Most of them are girls who have never had access to school education of any kind.
More than 20 Finnish artists and students have visited the centre, paying their own way.
The courses have given rise to documentary films on African youth, as well as animation films and books on issues such as truancy and health education.
Ringbom was also invited to Malawi to produce a health education book and an animation film about AIDS. The result was a story called The Hiding Hyena.
She has also worked in Rwanda and Kenya. The topics were memories, and animation also works as therapy.
Ringbom has also helped produce books on mental health for child health clinics in Helsinki, for instance. She has illustrated books, written by Tytti Solantaus on family mental health, which have been translated into several languages.
Antonia Ringbom was born in Helsinki 60 years ago. Since then she has spent much of her life further west. Nearly 30 years were spent in Hanko, 11 of which she served on the City Council as a leftist representative.
During her years in Hanko, Ringbom helped organise an annual "Creative Week" for more than 100 children each summer, including her own five children. As an experienced organiser, she also helped arrange a regular Hanko theatre event.
After her two marriages, Ringbom moved further west again in 2003, to settle in the island community of Korppoo, where she had spent the summers of her childhood.
From time to time she swaps the solitude of the countryside for the bustle of Helsinki, where she serves as a babysitter for her eight grandchildren.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.12.2006
SÄDE NENONEN / Helsingin Sanomat