OURColours is the socio-cultural arm of the OURCITY project aiming to interaction and cultural dialogue where the immigrant populations, less affluent populations and semi-integrated populations of Helsinki, in particular those living in Meri-Rastila and the wider area of Eastern Helsinki, can become an integral part of our city’s multi-ethnic and multicultural public face and participate in the city planning and design processes.

As all over the world, in Itäkeskus too people carry distinct cultural dressing codes. Every one may feel at times that we are in far away places while we are in Itä­keskus. Dress codes and fashion styles are proliferating through the eagerness of young people of ethno-cultural backgrounds who while maintaining their cultural identities demonstrate their distinct sense of style.

Itäkeskus shopping center in Eastern Helsinki was built in mid-1980s and is one of the biggest malls in Scandinavia with some 30 million visitors annually. It is estimated that approximately 30% of the daily visitors are of foreign origin and represent a great variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The colourful attires of the visitors of Itäkeskus mall often create the atmosphere of an impromptu fashion show with many cultural interpretations.

Dressing is a cultural element with social and even political significations. Even in the secular West and in Helsinki people with ethno-cultural backgrounds attract both negative and positive attention. Hijabs, abayas and niqubs are often seen as signs of women’s oppression by men and other women. Meanwhile we neglect to recognise the inventiveness of younger woman and men of ethno-cultural backgrounds when it comes to dressing styles and details that push further traditional limits. Such style – but not only –statements are often invisible to autochthonous people and Westerners. What is the difference between a dark hijab and a colourful one? It makes a big difference for the person who wears it and the message she transmits. The same may be said about many men of African background. Black dandyism is not a new phenomenon but it is seen in the West as threatening to social stereotypes and prejudices that represent African men in a certain derogative way.

OURColours wishes to promote a positive representation of as many as possible groups of people with ethnic backgrounds who would be willing to participate in this celebration of their dressing styles as an expression of their ‘public face’ in the city of Helsinki. With OURColours we wish to give opportunities to western eyes to appreciate the subtleties of ethnic dressing in its variety and modern interpretations. We want to show our appreciation to the everyday that incubates the extraordinary without reproducing stereotypes of exoticism and foreignness.

On Tuesday 15th of May 2012, OURcolours curried out a a big multi-event in the open space in frond of, as well as inside STOA, the multicultural centre in East Helsinki. Mustafa Gurler, our colleague and organizer of OURcolours was tirelessly making sure that the program would flow as planned; and it did! The weather though was our biggest ally, and sun shined all through the dances, songs, and fashion shows.

Many thanks to all the participants in OURcity events, those who cooked fantastic food, those who danced from Kurdish folk to Bollywood and modern African dances, those who sang from Italian, to Turkish, to Romani, to Kurdish, to music from the Philippines, and those who displayed their beautiful fashion. You made OURcolours a true celebration of colours, and of our diverse cultures. It is  these diverse cultures that make richer each others lives.

We would also like to thank STOA and Petra Hannus for all her help before and during OURcolours special day. Many thanks also to our tireless photographer Ayhan Turkmen.

We finally would like to thank you, all the nice people who honored OURcolours with your presence and hopefully enjoyed the events! Mustafa, it was worth it!!

(photos by M.Galanakis and A.Turkmen)


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