Artwork honouring career of Professor Martti Koskenniemi unveiled

On 13 January 2023 the highly-anticipated work of art by Finnish artist, Jan Kenneth Weckman, was unveiled.

On January 13th, 2023 an unveiling ceremony of the work of art, honouring Professor Martti Koskenniemi was held with more than 90 colleagues and friends of Koskenniemi present. The artwork was created by a Turku-based Finnish artist Jan Kenneth Weckman.

Martti Koskenniemi is an Emeritus Professor, an Academician of Science, and director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights since 1998. He has been called the leading international lawyer of his generation.

Professor Koskenniemi has almost single-handedly changed the way international lawyers perceive their discipline by writing two path-breaking books, and scores of influential articles. On the occasion of his retirement, his colleagues, friends, family, and students wished to honour him and his work by commissioning a work of art, to commemorate Koskenniemi’s unique contribution to his discipline.

Following a career in the Finnish Ministry for Foreign affairs, with highlights including the negotiation of the monumental UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and a posting at the Finnish mission to the UN at New York just when the Cold War came to an end and the UN acted harmoniously in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Koskenniemi moved full-time to the academic world and took up the international law chair at the University of Helsinki in 1996.

His work From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument made a lasting impression in the discipline of international law, offering radically new answers to questions that had plagued the discipline for centuries. In 2001, he published the award-winning treatise The Gentle Civilizer of Nations, launching what has been called a ‘historiographical turn’ in international legal scholarship. In addition, as the chairperson of the Study Group of the International Law Commission, he was a driving force in writing the influential report on the Fragmentation of International Law in 2006.

Professor Koskenniemi has been the founder and director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Helsinki, generally considered one of the leading institutes worldwide in the field of international law. Further, he has been appointed Finnish Academy Professor twice, has co-directed an ERC-funded project and is a member of both the British and American Academies of Arts and Sciences – as well as the Finnish Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, he holds several honorary doctorates, and has been a Global Law Professor at the New York University School of Law for over two decades. He has further held visiting appointments in a variety of leading law schools, including Cambridge, Melbourne and the London School of Economics. He has represented Finland before the International Court of Justice, and has been a member of the UN International Law Commission and the Administrative Tribunal of the Asian Development Bank.

Martti Koskenniemi has supervised numerous doctoral students over the world and has been a mentor to many other students and colleagues. But his most lasting legacy is through his work: young international lawyers all over the world may never have met him, but have been inspired by his writings, and have collectively come to think differently about international law.


Artist's statement

About my mission

In the spring of 2021, I was invited to make a portrait of Professor Martti Koskenniemi - a portrait of his life's work. It was clear from the beginning that this would not be easy. But I didn't realize how difficult it was for a while. When you don't begin work on a portrait by looking at photos or meeting face-to-face at an easel for sketches, the difficulties are different.

For such a portrait of life's work, is there any tradition? I think it might resemble an in-depth interview and a text. Or retrieving archives and writing. The pictures get their place among the text. But what if the text is missing?

Much later I decided to name the work Layers of Discourse. In order to emphasize the idea, I made two versions, one of which shows, as it were, gauze falling on top of the previous layer, oblivion or ignorance - but also the possibility of a new beginning. Which I marked in the picture at the end. Thinking and speech produce layered information and memory, even though they progress "linearly" in thoughts and when spoken aloud. Fortunately, we have time. And to buy time, we talk, negotiate, remember and go back to the beginning. At the same time, we seek an agreement that we mean and understand the same before we make a contract.

The work is a mental map, where the image surface is divided horizontally into an upper and a lower part, of course somewhat vaguely and broken. On the left, a light squiggle runs along the vertical edge and indicates the entire image surface, from which to search and extract symbolic relationships, distances, time and ideas for legal theory. In any case, the criteria of legal theory must be found outside the doctrine of laws, from sources, materials, testimonies or, on the other hand, from agreed criteria and principles. The picture has numerous grip surfaces, explanations and notes.

I place the doctrine of legal practices in a treasury guarded by life itself, where we seek the criteria for our justification. In the painting, I think of life, the world and societies as a dragon, a figure of uncontrollable energy. We can try to ride the dragon. However, the saddle is empty in the picture. The face of the dragon is based on Paul Klee's Angelus Novus from 1920.

My respect for Martti Koskenniemi's life's work emerges in its details from the works he wrote, with which I became more thoroughly acquainted through From Apology to Utopia – The Structure of International Legal Argument, supplemented with a new epilogue (Cambridge University Press 2006). I'm looking for griping points in the texts. I immediately turned them into mental images, which would be enough for an interesting picture. So, I read and drew for myself, this is probably where the section that tells about the author came from. What about the model? I solved the problem out of countless possibilities by creating a set of symbols that require a few keys. These are all different shapes and colours on the surface. Finally, road signs had to be written on them to stay on the map.

Martti Koskenniemi's contribution to the philosophy of international law requires mapping and critical examination of both sources and principles (criteria, theory of justice). He has done that in a remarkable way, in theory and in practice. This gives him a unique perspective that I try to show through art.

Jan Kenneth Weckman, January 2023