Artists with OI: Maija Karhunen

Maija Karhunen is a young woman with OI and lives in Helsinki, Finland. She has been working as a dancer, performer and journalist all across Europe. 

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Maija Karhunen, I’m 29 years old and live in Helsinki, Finland. I mostly work as dancer and performer in works of different choreographers and directors in Finland. I’ve lived in Berlin and Amsterdam, which still keeps me working around Europe as well. I also work as freelance journalist and art reviewer, I write mostly about the performing arts but also other forms of art and culture, as well as sometimes articles and interviews about politics, society and disability. In Finland I also work as editor-in-chief of a Finnish dance publication, trying to promote art critique and discussion about in art in every level, among artists but also in a wider sense.

Photo: Marc Philipp Gabriel

In what way has OI effected your art?

The art form that I work with concerns the body and often the theatre stage. So because of this I think OI and disability has a great effect but often in a subtle way. The works don’t many times deal with disability as a theme, but still they often provoke questions about what an ideal body is, what kind of bodies we can see on theatre stages, what the skills of a dancer are. For example, is it an important ability for a dancer or a performer to be able to walk? Many times audience, critics and colleagues might have misconceptions about people with disabilities but many times they also comment that after a while they start to get used to looking at a disabled body on stage and not focus on the disability so much.

I work both with and without the wheelchair, so many times the wheelchair is an object to work with. In one performance we built a function in the electric chair, so it could be remote-controlled, and it became a kind of an independent performer itself, a robot which seemed to have a personality of it’s own. Because the brand was Otto-Bock, his name became Otto.

Of course because of OI I need to solve a lot of practical issues and also think about risks when working physically. I never fractured anything when I was dancing, I think it could be because it’s often a sensitive state, listening to one’s own body and surroundings. When I work with other people in physical contact, it takes some time to find out what we can do together in a safe way, but this was never an issue. I think working with movement and body awareness has helped me a lot to know my body physically, cross some of my boundaries but also to know and respect them, and think about my body in a more accepting and appreciating way as well, as more multifaceted than just medicalized

Maija Karhunen in glass cube
From the performance “Ceci n’est pas”

What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment I work with choreographers who are working with themes such as failing and hysteria. Both very interesting, so let’s see what comes up! Hysteria was a theme I was also interested myself for a long time as a woman with a risk of being overly medicalized.

I tour at the moment in Europe with some works that both are dealing with disability. In Dries Verhoeven’s installation work Ceci n’est pas I sit in a glassbox in busy public places in a fancy outfit drinking cocktails, smoking cigarettes and flirting with passers-by. The question is whether we can see a disabled person as an object of sexual desire. Marc Philipp Gabriel’s work AJIMA is a solo where we question projections that people cast on each other in social interactions. It concerns all people but for a disabled person whose appearance stands out it can more extreme.

What kind of work do you most enjoy?

The moment of premiere and the performances is the most enjoyably and rewarding moment for me after a rehearsing for a long time. I love being on stage, because many times I’m quite insecure as a person, but on the stage I feel like I’m in kind of control of things. I can do there things on my own terms and to some extent have an influence on how people see me. So as a disabled person this can be quite an empowering experience and a powerful position to take. I like also work where I can really sweat.

Translate »