An essential part of Finland's reputation around the world is the equality of our society. Throughout history, design and designers have played a significant role in the development of our society and democracy.
The Design Museum’s main exhibition this spring and summer highlights the interconnection between design and equality in the past century. It explores the ideal of equality in some of the most celebrated icons of Finnish design as well as in lesser-known projects.
‘The way we understand equality changes over time. Design both reflects and influences this change’, says curator Kaisu Savola, a design historian and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University.
The exhibition "Design for Every Body" explores the ideal of equality not only in the most familiar icons of Finnish design, but also in projects that have remained less well known. The exhibition poses questions: Who is allowed to design and on whose terms? Who do they design for? Whose work is visible, whose voice is heard?
‘In the world of design, it has not always been self-evident that all kinds of people and identities are considered equally. Often, the design has been based on an ideal or average person who does not exist in real life. When trying to design something that works for everyone, the individual needs of many are overlooked’, says Savola.
Ways of working are in transition
Numerous iconic Finnish design products have been seen as part of building a more equal everyday life. In the 20th century, the idea of equality in the design field was that through high-quality but affordable, industrially produced objects, everyone's everyday life could be improved.
The exhibition also shows that equality has not always been realised in design, nor in its merits: often attention and credit have gone to men, even when the practical work has been shared with women. As an example of this, the exhibition presents two iconic designer couples, Annikki and Ilmari Tapiovaara and Aino Marsio-Aalto and Alvar Aalto.
Anna Vihma, co-curator of the exhibition and amanuensis at the Design Museum, says: ‘Today, the gender debate is very much about power relations: whose perspectives and whose experiences are taken into account? Awareness of the importance of representation in the 2020s has diversified not only the way museums operate, but also the factors that are coming to the fore in the design world.’
The exhibition also features the Arctic Indigenous Design Archive (AIDA) project, which collects and preserves the work of duojari, or Sámi craftsmen, artists and designers, as well as the jewellery tradition of the Roma people, which has remained strong to the present day.
‘It is possible both to appreciate the efforts of previous generations to achieve equality and to look at them critically, demanding change’, says Kaisu Savola. ‘In equality, individual needs are the present, diversity. Equalisation is no longer equality. It is good to remember that the work for equality is never done.’
Design for Every Body exhibition at Design Museum 8.4.–2.10.2022, Korkeavuorenkatu 23, Helsinki
Doctoral Candidate Kaisu Savola, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, [email protected], +358505434794