Shieko Reto – Long-term AR-Resident at Safe Haven Helsinki

We are very pleased to announce that Shieko Reto is our first 1-year Artist at Risk (AR) at Safe Haven Helsinki resident.

Shieko Reto is a visual artist and activist from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, whose work addresses the concerns of trans- and cross-cultural phenomena. Her work has been part of international exhibitions, including the Singapore Biennial and the AR PAVILION at Matadero-Madrid.


PLURIversity: “Gender: Human” by Shieko Reto at the Nordic Culture Point

Artist TALK by Shieko Reto

AR PAVILION – Madrid: Collateral II

Resident of

AR-Safe Haven Helsinki, 2017

Shika potrait

Shika, as she is known to friends, has been drawing all her life. Since her youth, drawing was one way of coping with being a trans-person in a repressive society. It has been a way to express herself in a patriarchal Muslim world in which she has no one to turn to. It became both a therapeutic and artistic activity from primary school onwards, and took her through college to her first job as a storyboard artist in an advertising agency, and then finally to an artistic path including participation in international exhibitions and biennials.

When first leaving advertising to become a full time artist, Shieko Reto often took her artwork (small paintings, d.i.y. zines & silkscreen t-shirts) to the infamous Kuala Lumpur Art Bazaar: ‘Art for Grabs’. This was considered quietly subversive, because this event was often organized by and with feminists, human rights and LGBTIQ activists. During her full-time freelancing with local Malaysian Human Rights NGOs and going through a gender & sexuality workshop, she found herself in a position of strength, with activists friends including human rights lawyers. This strong support network allowed her work to become more focused on her life experience as a transwoman in Malaysia.

In September 2013 she was one of few artist from Malaysia to join the Singapore Biennial. In 2013/2014, she received a scholarship from the Nippon Foundation to carry out research on transwomen’s activism and life in the Philippines and Japan. She interviewed and followed a selection of transwomen activists closely while in the Philippines, comparing it to Japan, where she organized exhibitions to create awareness of the situation of Transwomen in Malaysia. Her drawings, video work and performative work show an acute new awareness of transwomen in Far-East Asia.

Watch Shika’s interview at the Singapore Biennial

AR-Safe Haven Helsinki is curated by Perpetuum Mobilε (PM), and co-organized by PM and HIAP – Helsinki International Artist Programme. The programme is funded by the Helsinki City Cultural Office.


Nordic Culture Point, Keisaniemi 5pm, 18th January

This evening will include a short talk by Ivor Stodolsky on the notion of “pluriculturalism”, and an introduction to the PLURIversity by Marita Muukkonen. This will be followed by a performative presentation of new art work under the title “Gender: Human” by the Malaysian artist Shieko Reto in the prominent window of Nordic Culture Point in Kaisaniemi.

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