Sámi Artist Group (Keviselie/Hans Ragnar Mathisen, Britta Marakatt-Labba, Synnøve Persen)

Sápmi—getting there and away

In the late 1970s, a group of artists born in the Sápmi region in the mid-1940s and ’50s returned after graduating from art schools and academies in the (Norwegian or Swedish) south. From their travels they brought back artistic as well as political ideas similar to those held by any other art student at the time. However, as artists, they diverged. Their artistic and political project was to reclaim the human worth and pride belonging to Indigenous peoples and to build a nation: Sápmi. In 1978, the group settled in a small village, Máze, along the road between Alta and Guovdageaidnu. In this village, protests against the planned construction of a gigantic hydroelectric dam in the core Sámi area had taken place a few years earlier, and had escalated until the Norwegian military removed all protesters in 1981. If they lost the battle to stop the building of the dam, the Sámi people did gain a sense of activism and a fierce political fight for self-determination and for decolonization. The artworks presented at documenta 14 by three members of the group will be your guide into this history.

The flag

Traveler, the tricolor in blue, yellow, and red, stitched together by Synnøve Persen in 1977, leads you to the hunger strike in front of the Norwegian parliament in Oslo as part of the Alta-Guovdageaidnu protests and to the demonstrations at the site of the planned hydroelectric dam. If you make a stop along the path, you may hear a story about the strong significance of the flag as a political symbol—too strong to become the official flag. Here, the flag is reinterpreted as paintings.

Everyday life and history

Britta Marakatt-Labba’s work leads you, the traveler, into Sámi epistemology and storytelling, where the worlds of the sacred and the profane coexist in everyday life. You have to get up close, and when you do, you will see the linen penetrated by the pointed needle, followed by the thread, small stitches one by one; a visualization of an epic story unfolds.

How to navigate by maps
All travelers who are strangers need maps to navigate by. The colonizers knew this. Hence, when claiming Indigenous territories, they took the opportunity to name them as well. Since 1975, Keviselie/Hans Ragnar Mathisen has reclaimed the maps from the hands of the colonizers and replaced their place names with those of the Sámi and of Sámi perspectives. If you are a stranger, traveler, these revisionary maps will guide you through Sápmi and pave the path for your return.

—Hanna Horsberg Hansen

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook