Jaanus Samma (1982) studied print making, but he works with all contemporary art mediums starting with installations and video, to jewellery and knitwear design. His works deal with the outer edge of everyday life, recently focusing on the overlap between public and private space.
Emerging onto the Estonian art field in the 2000s, there were multiple examples of an ambivalent camp-like take on homo-erotica and gay symbolism, fountains, cannons and dolphins were found in Samma’s work. For example, “Applied Arts for a Gay Club” (2010 with Alo Paistik) was eroticising the archaic physical work done by men in farms and situates them in the context of gay subculture. A rather more serious discourse about the history of sexuality is a collection of audiofiles called “Stories” (2007/2011), in which middle-aged gay men talk about fear and what it means to be normal, how homosexual relationships were criminalised, how they found partners, and how repressed sexuality conditioned their lives.
The work “Stories” expanded into his doctoral dissertation and art project “Chairman”, which he exhibited at the 56th Estonian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, and afterwards in the Museum of Occupations in Tallinn. The exhibition is a historical story, yet one so far untold, about the repression of homosexual men during the Soviet occupation, using the example of a tragic biography of a man called “Chairman”. Despite Samma often referring to the ugliness of society, his works are abundant with a refined humour.
Samma’s project “Hair Sucks” is a collection of graffiti containing sexual references from different parts of the world, which have been woven into sweaters. He’s also studying graffiti in a project which focuses on the external toilet of Kodavere church, in which the carved messages and names tell stories about the history and the people of a 20th century village.
Jaanus Samma has studied print making at the Estonian Academy of Arts, liberal arts at École Supérieure Estienne des Arts et Industries Graphiques in Paris and at Université Paris 8-s Saint-Denis’s. Currently he’s finishing his doctoral studies at the Estonian Academy of Arts. He was a resident at WIELS in 2018. Jaanus Samma has exhibited his works in numeral places in Estonia and Europe. “NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale” curated by Eugenio Viola represented Estonia at the 56th Venice Biennale. In 2013, his work was awarded with the Köler Prize.