At the Southbank Centre’s press preview of Adventures in Moomin land, I struck up conversation with a Finnish broadcaster, who left the country about forty years ago. She’d become too used to the UK’s warmer climate to go back now, she said; but as a child, she’d loved the freedom, the emphasis on outdoor play, and all the wide, open space.
“Finland is the perfect place for children”
In the UK we’re in the midst of a love affair with Scandinavian countries. Their ethos, philosophies and style are very ‘now’. Ikea furniture is rolled out as standard across the country. Hygge, and now Lagom (meaning not too little, and not too much), have been the buzz-words of Winter 2016/17. And, as Sophia Jansson, the niece of Moomins creator Tove Jannson, pointed out in a press introduction to Adventures in Moomin land, the Scandinavian emphasis on the importance of gender equality, the planet, and play are very appealing to modern Brits.
Adventures in Moominland forms part of a timely one-year Nordic Matters festival at London’s Southbank Festival. If you’re imagining the immersive, interactive exhibition as a giant space for children, think again. It’s a playful but reverent exploration of the Moomins, and how they developed in the 1940s out of the imagination and life events of Tove Jansson. It’s for children aged seven and over; I went twice, once with my seven-year-old son, who enjoyed it but was slightly bemused by the fact that the exhibition tour was made up mainly of adults.
And what a tour it was. You entered the exhibition space by stepping through pages behind the front cover of a very large book. Inside, Sandi Toksvig narrated the words of children’s writer Laura Dockrill, with the sound of jazz music (beloved by Jansson) in the background. A guide took you down corridors, into an old-school lamp-lit canvas tent to watch the story of how the Moomins began; through a snowy forest (with real trees) where you had to look out for the Groke; on a raft to a rocky beach, with a Moomin-style picnic laid out; and through many other evocative, well-thought out spaces until finally you arrived back at the Moomin’s dining room.
I had two different guides, who were both knowledgeable and playful. The first even looked like a Moomin character, with the dark topknot and full skirt of Little My. The guides gave detailed information about Jansson’s life, which was remarkable, from her creation of a Moomin when she was a child, as a response to an argument with her brother about the philosopher Kant; to her reclusive later life on an island that was little more than a rock.
The exhibition was strewn with original artworks, which were set in context by our guides. The tour didn’t shy away from Jansson’s lesbianism; the very first exhibit was a large Moomin figure which, we were told, was made by her partner Tuulikki. Adventures in Moomin land presented her as a sensitive and deeply imaginative individual, who spun thought-provoking stories of a magical, homely world. Although I’ve always liked the Moomins, I haven’t read any of the books, other than a couple of illustrated stories. Adventures in Moomin land left me feeling that it was important, in these fractured times, to properly read these tales of family, love and unity.
Adventures in Moomin land is at London’s Southbank Centre until 20 August 2017. Tours run regularly and last approximately 50 minutes. We were given tickets for the purpose of this post; ticket prices are between £13.50 and £16.50.
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