Tuula Juvonen, Tampere, Finland: Queering Archives and Museums – Raising consciousness about preserving LGBT History in Finland

"In order to remedy the situation, an idea rose among some of the elderly LGBT activists. Why not create a lesbian and gay museum of our own in Finland?" 
Tampere Pride
Tuula Juvonen is a Senior Lecturer for Gender Studies at the University of Tampere. In this paper, she describes the development of a LGBTI community in Finland and the difficulties in establishing LGBTI archives as the small population, the lack of funding and the "limited collective consciousness about a shared history and its value" significantly impeded the process. Nevertheless, she points out how stimulating initiatives are emerging and new projects are being realized. 

How can the situation of LGBT archives in your country be compared to the situation in Finland? And how do you think could the awareness about LGBTI histories in Finland and other countries be further raised?

To read Tulla Juvonen's full paper, click "read more". Enjoy, discuss, comment and share!
 Tuula Juvonen
Senior Lecturer
Gender Studies
School of Social Sciences and Humanities
33014 University of Tampere
+358-3-3551 7174

A paper delivered for the Day 3: Collaboration at the LGBTI ALMS 2012 Conference, Amsterdam, August 1-3, 2012.

Queering Archives and Museums – Raising consciousness about preserving LGBT History in Finland

In the 1990s it was difficult to conduct archives based research on LGBT lives in Finland. In the LGBT community there was only a limited collective consciousness about a shared LGBT history and its value. Tellingly enough the archives of the chronically understaffed national LGBT organisation Seta were randomly fitted in a cellar closet without any clear view of its content. So far only one of the publicly funded national memory institutions had shown any interest in collecting material about homosexuality, namely the Folklore Archives of the Finnish Literature Society. In the year 1993 it had organized a collection of memories about homosexuality on a request of Jan Löfström, who was hard pressed to find any materials in its collections for his Ph.D. thesis on rural homosexuality (Löfström 1994). None of the other publicly funded archives had made an effort to cataloguing their existing repositories in such a manner as to facilitate research on LGBT issues.

In order to remedy the situation, an idea rose among some of the elderly LGBT activists. Why not create a lesbian and gay museum of our own in Finland?

As a younger scholar interested in lesbian history and a member of this small archival group of Seta I attended the Know How Conference in the Netherlands in 1998, in order to learn more about lesbian archives. My conclusions from that event were not too encouraging. During the conference I realized that establishing a successful LGBT archive would require one of the following:

1)    A political momentum, which would bring in both the political will and public funding for such a project (like in South Africa)
2)    A sizeable lesbian and gay community, which would provide a host of dedicated volunteers and enough donations to run an independent archives (like Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York or Schwules Museum in Berlin)

In Finland the political momentum looked not so bright, as lesbians and gays were at that time having hard time even to get such basic social rights as registered partnership accepted. Likewise the small size of this Nordic Welfare state with no fundraising and donation culture, as the state was commonly considered to be the funding body, and a population of 5 million only, made it unlikely that Seta would be able to raise enough resources to establish an archive of its own. Hence that idea had to be buried.

Years passed, and the situation remained quite the same. However, in 2002 the law on registered partnerships passed and I got my book Varjoelämää ja julkisia salaisuuksia on the construction of homosexuality in the post-war Finland finalized, and it seemed like a good timing to make a new move. So I contacted Pontus Blomster, the director of Werstas, the publicly funded Finnish Labour Museum located in Tampere. In a meeting I suggested him that Werstas would start, as the first and only museum in Finland, to collect materials about LGBT lives. Passing the partnership law gave an aura of respectability to LGBT issues, and Blomster soon saw also the benefit of the proposal for the progressive image of the museum. Moreover, he was able to convince the Finnish Labour Archives in Helsinki to join the idea. The plan was that the national LGBT organisation Seta with its local chapters would initiate the necessary donations, and the museum and archives would jointly take care of them.

A couple of initiatives ensued that very year: a joint training day for archivists and LGBT activists to introduce the idea and to carry it out into the voluntary organisations, and a couple of pep talks in local LGBT events in Helsinki and Tampere. Some donations started to trickle, but they were not that many. Apparently the local chapters of Seta had difficulties to make popular the novel idea among its members of donating one’s personal materials into a museum. Yet some of the chapters were at least animated to get their own archives organized and donated to the Finnish Labour Archives, as was also the national LGBT organisation Seta.

The first major private donation to Werstas was that of an artist Raini Vallinharju in 2003. She made an archival artwork called 1-130/130, in which she donated 130 of her diaries to the museum. They document, among more personal reflections, her active involvement within the Helsinki lesbian community during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

By the year 2004 the joint donating project was more or less hibernating, when Vallinharju came up with the idea of organizing an exhibition about LGBT history. A small working group, containing museum staff and LGBT scholars and activists, was established to plan the exhibition and to ensure new donations and loans. The small exhibition Vaarin paketti ja sateenkaarinappi was opened in 2005 in conjunction with Tampere Pride. It was also designed to raise awareness about the current lack of knowledge about Finnish LGBT history and hence the importance of new donations. The exhibition actually was able to increase to some extent the flow of donations.

As part of the exhibition a recently published local history of LGBT life and organizing, written by Tarja Hautanen (2005), was on sale. In addition a writing competition Näkymättömästä näkyväksi was launched as part of the exhibition. For that visitors were encouraged to send in their own memoirs about LGBT lives. The Finnish Labour Archives collection received only 18 written entries, but they, for the very first time in Finland, were able to add new first hand information about the lives of a gay BDSM couple, a transvestite, a bisexual woman, of different lesbian communities and an elderly gay couple, among others, into the collections of memory institutions.

During that same year 2005 a public Broadcasting company YLE Teema aired a four-part television documentary about lesbian and gay history, Homo-Suomen historia. Taken together, these initiatives started to build up, for the first time in Finland, a shared consciousness about the value of LGBT history.

Parallel to these events geared to LGBT community and greater audiences also the professionals working within memory institutions were addressed in presentations given by the new museum director Kalle Kallio in seminars organized by Werstas or by professional organisations. I gave additional presentations to scholarly audiences in scholarly workshops and conferences. I also taught two university courses on queer archiving in 2006, as part of my Academy of Finland funded research project From Thinking Archives to Doing Archives: Queer Action Research on Finnish Archiving Practices.

In the year 2007 the City Museum in Vantaa took up the idea of a LGBT history exhibition, and it organized a more extensive Sateenkaari-Suomi exhibition, which included a web exhibition and an accompanying book edited by Kati Mustola and Johanna Pakkanen.

During the past years the memory institutions have been working on their collections, cataloguing it, and pondering about possibilities to make it more readily accessible for the public. Werstas has included parts of its LGBT collection at the collaborative web portal of various Finnish museums at www.arhjenhistoria.fi. At that site this particular collection of photographs, items and books can be browsed with the search command “LHBT”.

In 2013 the local lesbian and gay organisation Pirkanmaan Seta is going to have its 40th anniversary, and Werstas has agreed to organize a new exhibition to celebrate the event. This time the focus will be on lived experiences of LGBT people, adding a more personal note to the exhibition. This time Werstas plans to enrich its collecting practices to include oral history materials, collected by scholars and activists, and to add art work as part of the exhibition.


Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Kansanrunousarkisto/ The Folklore Archives of the The Finnish Literature Society
Homosexuality (1993)
New same-sex wedding traditions (2002–)

Työväen Arkisto / The Finnish Labour Archives
            “Seta-collection” (2002–)

Työväen Museo Werstas / The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas
            LHBT collection (2002­)

Yhteiskuntatieteellinen tietoarkisto / The Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD)
            Various collections since 1999


1994 Publications
Löfström, Jan (1994) The social construction of homosexuality in Finnish society, from the late nineteenth century to 1950s. University of Essex. Unpublished PhD Dissertation.  

1998 Know How Conference
Know How Conference on the World of Women’s Information, Amsterdam. http://www.aletta.nu/aletta/eng/projects/know-how-community

1999 Publications
Löfström, Jan (1999) ”Se nyt vaan on semmonen” . Sukupuoliero agraarikulttuurissa [”He is like that” Gender difference in agrarian culture. SKS: Helsinki.

2002 Publications
Juvonen, Tuula (2002) Varjoelämää ja julkisia salaisuuksia. Homoseksuaalisuuden rakentuminen sotienjälkeisessä Suomessa. [Shadow Lives, Public Secrets: The construction of homosexuality in post- World War II Finland]. Vastapaino: Tampere. [Dissertation]

2003 Archival artwork
Vallinharju, Raini (2003) 1-130/130. A documentation of the donation of Raini Vallinharju’s diaries to the Central Museum of Labour for her BA in environmental arts at the School of Art and Media, Tampere, Finland. The work consists of 130 diaries covering the years 1981-2001, displayed in a showcase, and of archiving folders put on view in storage shelving, moreover framed documents about the donation, such as release and consent forms on the walls of the exhibition room, and an illustrated catalogue for visitors to take home.

2005 Exhibition Vaarin paketti ja sateenkaarinappi
Jaskari, Ulla & Juvonen, Tuula & Vallinharju, Raini (eds) (2005): Vaarin paketti ja sateenkaarinappi [Grandpa's Parcel and Rainbow Badge]. Työväen keskusmuseo Werstas: Tampere.
Juvonen, Tuula (2005) Näkymättömästä näkyväksi - Muistitietokeruu lesbojen, homojen, bi- ja transihmisten elämästä [Becoming Visible – Reminiscence collection about LGBT lives]. Työväen arkisto.

2005 Publications
Hautanen, Tarja (2005) Yksityistilaisuus. Turkulaisten homojen ja lesbojen kulttuurihistoriaa. [Private only. Cultural history of lesbians and gays in Turku. Seksuaalinen tasavertaisuus SETA: Helsinki. [MA thesis]
Sorainen,  Antu (2005) Naisten keskinäistä haureutta koskevat oikeudenkäynnit 1950-luvun Itä-Suomessa [Accidental Criminals? Women’s same-sex fornication trials in Eastern Finland during the 1950s. University of Helsinki. Yliopistopaino: Helsinki. [Dissertation]

2006 Television documentary Homo-Suomen historia
Homo-Suomen historia (2006) Tarinatalo Oy and YLE Kulttuuri, 120 min.

2007 Exhibition Sateenkaari-Suomi
Mustola, Kati & Pakkanen, Johanna (eds) (2007) Sateenkaari-Suomi - Seksuaali- ja sukupuolivähemmistöjen historiaa. [Rainbow Finland. History of sexual and gender minorities] Like: Helsinki.
Sateenkaari-Suomi web exhibition http://www.vantaa.fi/fi/kulttuuri/museot/_kaupunginmuseo/nayttelyt/sateenkaari-suomi_verkkonayttely


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