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Ambassador Harri Kamarainen speaks at the event.—White Star
Ambassador Harri Kamarainen speaks at the event.—White Star

KARACHI: One hundred years ago, Finland was a poor country. It was its designers who through their inventive designs changed the economic situation of their nation. This was said in an enlightening speech by Finland’s Ambassador to Pakistan Harri Kamarainen while introducing an exhibition of his country’s products titled ‘Innovative Designs from Finland’ at the Alliance Francaise on Friday evening.

Mr Kamarainen delighted the audience by beginning and ending his address in Urdu. The bulk of his speech, though, was in English.

He said he was happy that he got a chance to visit Karachi. It’s his first visit to the city, the economic hub of Pakistan.

The ambassador said he started his tenure in Pakistan a few months back. Apart from Pakistan he covered Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives.

Mr Kamarainen said the reason for putting together the exhibition was to give the [Pakistani] audience some idea, some image of his country. Nordic designs, he told the audience, were plain, simple and pragmatic.

Describing why they were simple, the ambassador said 100 years ago Finland, when it became an independent nation, was the poorest country in Europe. When the Finnish Designers Association was founded more than a century ago, people were dying of hunger. Finland had never been a rich monarchy like other European countries. It needed every citizen to contribute to its [struggling] society.

Mr Kamarainen said Finland was the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote. In the Second World War, the men went to the frontiers to fight Russia, while women worked in the fields making sure that the children were fed. In such a difficult situation women needed tools that were easy to use. For example, the scissors that they used fit perfectly in their hands. It became one of the major Finnish exports. So, WWII played a part in developing Finnish industrial designs.

Mr Kamarainen said after WWII things improved but not drastically. The designers thought that in order to change the grim reality of the people they needed to do something. How could they do that? They made things such as colourful fabrics that brought sunlight into their houses (since the country doesn’t have sunshine in winter). With a little bit of attitude the Finnish designers made their countrymen’s lives happier.

The ambassador then pointed to a striped shirt that was hanging in one corner of the venue. He said it was special because they were designed by a famous woman designer Armi Ratia who in the 1950s wanted everybody, every man and every woman, in her country to wear them. Today, be it a cleaning lady or the president of the country, everyone wore the shirts that she designed.

The ambassador also asked the audience to look at pieces of fabric from different decades. One of them made by the company Marimekko was from the 1960s which was popular in countries such as Japan. Its success story started with Jacqueline Kennedy who took a shine to Marimekko dresses which brought the company into the limelight. After Ms Kennedy, many first ladies, including Hillary Clinton, wore it. Therefore the message of equality did not remain confined to Finland, but crossed borders, he added.

After the ambassador’s speech the invitees looked around the exhibition area. There were quite a few interesting things on display that caught their attention, including posters of Finland, a variety of fabric, shirts, T-shirts, etc. There was also a book, an Urdu translation, on Finland’s social structure titled Finland: Samaji Ikhtira’at.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018