The new Helsinki Hobo exhibition at the Helsinki City Museum dives into the fringes of society. It gives the homeless, alcoholic men and women, sex workers, bootleggers, binge drinkers and small-time criminals living in shelters and nursing homes a voice. The exhibition is based on the texts and drawings of Johan Knut Harju who lived in Helsinki.
Johan Knut Harju (1910–1976) was an observer of oddities that lie under bridges and a determined reporter of street life. Harju was a self-taught writer and collector of tradition, but also a homeless alcoholic, whose life work was to record the things he encountered on the streets of Helsinki.
Helsinki Hobo is the first ever exhibition on Harju’s life’s work, and it breathes life into this one-of-a-kind connoisseur and reporter of street life. Selected pages of Harju’s roughly 20,000 journal pages form the core of the exhibition. The journals are recorded in the Finnish Literature Society’s (SKS) folklore archives. They illustrate the rough reality of life in Kallio, Sörnäinen, Hermanni, Vallila and Ruoholahti, which was still located in a kind of blind spot in Helsinki in the 1960s and 70s.
The concept of the fourth floor of the City Museum includes expanding the idea of the museum by providing content that inspires strong emotions. “We wanted to highlight a theme that is often overlooked. A theme that is timeless, but changes with the times. We hope that visitors will be able to understand some of the insecurity of sleeping rough in the freezing cold and the hopelessness of fates pierced by heavy substance abuse – but also the humour and warm communal spirit used as a means of coping,” says exhibition producer Sauli Seppälä.
Graphic designer Tero Juuti brings Harju’s writings to life, as does a VR animation by director Hanna Västinsalo and animator Juulia Kääriä, which takes the viewer on a tram journey to the infamous dives of Helsinki narrated by Harju himself.
The exhibition is curated by folklorists Heli Paakkonen, Maija Karasvaara and Hanna Västinsalo together with the City Museum exhibition team. The exhibition space was planned by set designers Jones Maxwell and Mari Lappalainen.
Every Saturday, visitors can meet discussion guides at the exhibition. They are there to talk about homelessness and the unwritten history of Helsinki. Tour guides from the Hima & Strada walking tours serve as discussion guides. In addition to Hima & Strada, which operates in connection with Kalliola Settlement, cooperation partners of the exhibition include No Fixed Abode and the Finnish Literature Society.
The museum will also be holding events related to the exhibition in the autumn and winter.
Fourth floor of Helsinki City Museum
15 November 2019–29 March 2020
Mon–Fri 11–19, Sat–Sun 11–17
Always free entry