Art for human rights

The stories of people with disabilities are often told by physically privileged people, claims textile and conceptual artist Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen. She argues that stereotypes are perpetuated in the way that disabled people are portrayed by non-disabled people.
Installation piece Tickle the Cripple.

How did you become an artist?
I wasn’t actually planning to take up art, but inspired by a blanket I made in needlework class in upper secondary school, I decided to apply to the School of Arts, Design and Architecture to study textile art. I wasn’t accepted, but I started studies at the Wetterhoff arts and crafts school instead. Later, I re-applied to the School of Arts, Design and Architecture from which I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Why did you apply for a grant from Kone Foundation?
I call my project Recitative to Inclusion. The purpose of the project is to focus on the lack of inclusion of people with disabilities and to eliminate stereotypes created by non-disabled people regarding disability.

Before applying for a grant from Kone Foundation, I had already formed a positive image of the foundation on the basis of events, communications and community art projects. In addition, I knew that the foundation has supported artists with disabilities before.

I also feel that my project is difficult to fit into the traditional categories used for arts. In addition to textile art, I also create short films and performance art.

What are you focusing on at the moment?
I am currently spending a lot of time on artistic work. In addition to spending time at my studio, I also travel a lot. I attend festivals of different kinds, and I get requests for exhibiting my work in various places.

My work also involves visiting organisations for people with disabilities. These provide me with plenty of first-hand information on what is happening in the field.

I record my work and the background for my pieces on a camcorder constantly and utilise the material in my short film projects, among other ways.

What makes your project bold??
It is really scary to challenge parties that you are dependent on, such as Kela (the Finnish social insurance institution), architects and authorities.

My primary goal is to change the way people think of and interact with people with disabilities. Meeting people, I have noticed, among other things, that they are often astonished to hear how poorly the rights of people with disabilities are protected in Finland. Finland was one of the last countries in the European Union to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I have often heard it said that political art no longer exists, but I feel that that is what I do. I believe that art can be of help with human rights and other issues.

What inspires you in your work?
At least the fact that this is the world’s most enjoyable job. I enjoy going to my studio in the mornings. It is great to be able to affect the surrounding world, and I hope that something good comes out of my work. It is always interesting to meet new people and hear their stories.

Textile and conceptual artist Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen creates disability-related political art. Photo: Maija Koivisto

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Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen, Bachelor of Arts, is a textile and conceptual artist and a recipient of a grant from Kone Foundation, which was awarded for her Recitative to Inclusion project.

An exhibition related to the project, Vammaisuus sopii kaikille – täydellisyyden häirintää (‘Disability suits everyone – disturbing the perfect’) was held in Galleria K in Tikkurila, Vantaa from 21 July to 13 August 2017. In addition to textile sculptures, the exhibition included short films and performance recordings.

During 2017, Wallinheimo-Heimonen’s short films have been shown at festivals in the United States, Canada, Brazil and many European countries.