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Mystery protester paints over rainbow stairs in Helsinki

A neighbourhood art project was erased in a midnight painting spree last week in the Helsinki district of Malminkartano. The 426 stairs to the peak of the district's artificial hill were first painted rainbow colours by a volunteer group, but an unknown saboteur re-painted most of them white in protest. The artist behind the project has filed a criminal complaint.

Malminkartanon juuri maalatut portaat oli käyty töhrimässä valkoisella maalilla
The rainbow colours of the Malminkartano hill in Helsinki have been whited-out. Image: Riku Tonttila / Yle

A community art project is scrambling to repair a rainbow art project after a mystery vandal painted over their multicoloured work on more than 400 steps at a Helsinki landmark.

Stairs leading to the highest point in Helsinki, the peak of the artificial hill in the northern district of Malminkartano, were the target of a secret raid this week when an unknown assailant covered the rainbow colours on the hill's 426 stairs with white paint from the mid-point to the top.

Artist Maj-Britt Huovila, the artist behind the community effort that originally created the multi-coloured steps, says she has filed a criminal complaint. In her view, the work of art was partially destroyed by the whitewasher. 

"I don't know who it was that got upset about this, and why it would bother anyone," Huovila says.

The stairs were painted different colours on August 8 as part of a community project entitled Stripe Art: The Malminkartano hill stairs. A team of volunteers worked to paint the edges of the stairs - not the treads - in over 30 different colours.

The Malminkartano work is part of an Artists' Society project known as Taidekehä, which brings art to outdoor spaces in districts dotted around the capital. Huovila says the aim of the project was to strengthen communal spirit and resident participation.

What was the problem?

Huovila is disappointed that the finished project seemingly irritated someone.

"The colours must have had a huge impact to rub someone the wrong way to this extent," she says.

Huovila says she did get a bit of negative feedback during the project, as the stairs were closed during the painting work. Otherwise, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

"I don't know whether the multi-colour stairs themselves were seen as annoying, or if it was the idea of this kind of art. I've seen it before, colours without form can be an irritant," the artist says.

malminkartano maalaus katutaide täyttömäki jätemäki
The project painted the edges of the stairs in over 30 colours. Image: Vesa Marttinen / Yle

No Pride connection

Huovila says she did not mean to offend anyone with the project, but admits it is hard to please everyone.

She says the project was not connected to the Pride movement promoting gender and sexual minority rights, for example, which uses the rainbow colours as a trademark. She says the idea to paint the steps different colours was born from an abstract concept: using a variety of colours to communicate human interaction.

"The stripes represented different colours that were in dialogue. My starting point when I am working on a piece of art has always been communication," Huovila says.

Plans to restore the original art

Huovila says that she is planning to re-paint the stairs' edges to return them to their original colours, even though there is a risk that someone will come and paint over them again.

"I feel strongly that we haven't seen the end of this yet. I am of the opinion that this was a successful expression of art, and we will re-paint it. I'm sure that we will be able to find volunteers to paint it again," she says.

The Malminkartano hill rises 90 meters above sea level, and provides a panoramic view of Helsinki at its peak. The hill was used as a municipal landfill site between the years 1976 and 1996 and is largely composed of construction waste such as sand, stone and concrete.

Now maintained for recreational use, the hill is used as a downhill mountain bike track in the summer and a sledding destination in the winter. It is also a popular exercise area for joggers, and the 426 stairs in particular are used by many fitness enthusiasts for stamina training.

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