The Different Ones is a cross media art project, supported by research, about the everyday lives of disabled children and youngsters around the world. It comprises of expeditions, human rights education and policy advocacy.
The artistic work opens the everyday lives of disabled children and the people around them. The project is based on the ideal that the concept of human dignity includes tolerance for differences, and that this concept can be shared by all, despite the different cultural backgrounds, different levels of GDP or different belief systems.
Follow the project website Erilaiset.fi to stay up to date on the project as the working group travels around Finland and the world.
Photographer Jyri Pitkänen and writer Eveliina Talvitie met and became friends in Benin, West-Africa, in November 2015. They were both at the time residents at Villa Karo, the Finnish-African cultural centre, that has hosted artists, writers, journalists and researchers over the past 15 years.
Jyri Pitkänen, who has a long history of creating art projects with disabled children and youngsters in Finland, is in Benin to continue this work: he takes pictures of disabled children and explores their living conditions. Eveliina Talvitie is in Benin to write her non-fiction book about feminism and equality and uses the opportunity to interview local women.
During the residency, the two combine their expertise. Photos and words, pictures and the non-fiction tales intertwine. The role of a white alien, the overwhelming heat, the experience of a reality totally different from what they were used to – sharing all this opens a wider view to the world for both of them. The urge to understand different realities grows stronger. They are convinced that the better we all understand how different perceptions of “normal” there are, the better will the world be. My normal is not always your normal.
The two continue their cooperation after returning to Finland. They develop an idea of a journey around Finland, Europe and the world to meet disabled children and their families and to tell their stories by the means of art. The outputs would be an art book, a series of exhibitions, a set of learning materials for human rights education in elementary schools, and advocacy work for inclusion. And a website to describe the journey.
A group of subject matter experts was invited to form a steering group for the project. University teacher and a specialist in inclusion, Johanna Lampinen; professor of disability studies Simo Vehmas, philosopher Tuukka Perhoniemi, psychologist Pirkko Lahti, reporter and writer Rauli Virtanen, actor Sara Paavolainen who has worked as a carer for her disabled daughter Saimi, and development coordinator Tuomas Tuure from Kynnys ry (The Threshold Association, a cross-disability organization, which focuses on the basic and human rights of persons with disabilities).
It took a lot of thinking to find the project a proper name. Finally, “The Different Ones” seemed right as it captures the essence of the whole project. Is there a need to define someone as different? Aren’t we all different in one way or another. Or is it important to admit that some are more different than others?
Maybe it makes sense to admit that some people are more different than others. Nevertheless, the most important goal is to try to learn to respect each other the way we are.
The Different Ones grew to be a project combining art and science. It expands individual stories into universal experiences of humanity, being different, identity and gender.
The uniqueness of the project comes from the encounters and moments of everyday life the authors experience when travelling around the world and meeting the children. The final outputs – the book, the exhibitions and learning materials – will give the audience the possibility to get closer to the everyday life and reality of the disabled people.
The project also builds a bridge between people from different countries and cultures. Experiences of communality, security, fear, freedom, normality and abnormality are shared across the borders of countries and ethnicity, and are in the project shown side by side, creating better understanding between people.
There are a lot of similarities in the experiences of people living in opposite sides of the world. Honour, shame, love, happiness, equality and suffering are all universal feelings. The living conditions may differ, but there are the underprivileged in all societies. On the other hand, the differences between the societies help us all to see the structures of our own society more clearly. The way the society treats the disabled reveals it’s true perception of the human dignity.
The Different Ones aims to provoke also a wider conversation on promoting equality. The ultimate goal is a significant change. The project questions the perception of normal. Even though disabled people are not in general assessed by the scale of normal – abnormal, the connotation of ‘normal’ is very much a healthy person without any disabilities. Challenging the concept of normal opens the possibilities for a bigger change of actions as well. The project offers a platform for the disabled children and their families on which they can be seen and heard as they are. They are not presented as miserable victims nor heroes. For the wider audience The Different Ones opens a window to the everyday life of people they might not otherwise encounter. This window is needed because the attitudes towards the disabled is still problematic, also in Finland.
How and when
The Different Ones is a politically independent art project, a set of journeys to explore the human mind and the world.
The project offers the participating disabled children and their families the chance to make a journey to their past, but also encourages them to stop to seize the present and to describe their hopes and wishes for the future. The project group are on a journey, both to the human mind but also around the world. And the steering group members are committed travel companions as wll, though participating from the distance.
By following the blog in the project website www.erilaiset.fi anyone can take part on the journey, get to know the children and their families as well as read the expert viewpoints on the related topics, presented by the steering group members.
The milestones of the project
- During the summer and autumn 2016 Pitkänen and Talvitie have been touring around Finland to meet with Finnish children.
- In December 2015 they travelled to Italy where disabled children are a part of the society in a more solid way than for example in Finland. For example, since 1977, there are no special education classes in Italy and the disabled children attend the same classes as any children.
- In January 2017 Pitkänen and Talvitie travel to Kenya, Namibia, Benin and Ghana. For three months, they’ll meet local disabled children and their families to learn about their everyday lives.
- In autumn 2017 the first exhibition presenting the project findings opens at Jukka Male Museo in Helsinki. The dates will be announced later.
- Later in 2017, Pitkänen and Talvitie will travel to Sweden, Russia and the Baltic countries.
- The book and the main exhibition will be produced and published in 2018.