Inuit Art Quarterly
Beaivváš, duottar, johka, eana.
Miessi, vuovdi, spill, návdi.
Mearra, barro, allí, guolli.
Juopmu, jeagil, muoldu, muorji.
Váhki. Gávpot. Veaigi. Guovssu.
Boahtteáigái ja guhkkelebbui, guhkkelebbui, guhkkelebbui.
In the most northern parts of Sápmi in Sweden, a small city just a little older than a hundred years is, together with its inhabitants, going through a transformation under the watchful eye of the world. Kiruna’s central neighbourhoods are being relocated or demolished due to the continued activity at the state-owned mine, and a new city centre is now slowly taking shape two miles eastwards. Often forgotten or simply overlooked in the narrative of this area is the fact that long before the mine sunk into the ground, before the city was planned, the land nurtured an Indigenous people whose existence is still present and dependent on the use of the territory.
When the first buildings in the new city centre opened in late 2018, it contained a county art museum, Konstmuseet i Norr. The museum aims to show critically oriented contemporary art that responds to societal issues through a variety of artistic perspectives, media and practices. With this in mind, the piece Markerna (2018) by the South Sámi artist Carola Grahn became the obvious choice as the first acquisition for the new collection. Konstmuseet i Norr’s placement on Sámi ancestral homeland serves as a crucial condition in Grahn’s piece. The piece states the museum’s inevitable geographical and emotional connection to its surroundings and recognizes the historical magnitude of the site.
Markerna is a speech, written by the artist and inspired by the practice of land acknowledgements that rarely occur in Sweden, and a version of a Sámi skáhppu— a traditional handmade wooden box, usually oval with a flat bottom, no larger than what can be held in the hands. The woodwork and horn engraving of the skáhppu was developed in collaboration with Nils-Johan Labba, a master craftsman in duodji, Sámi traditional craft. In Grahn’s piece the skáhppu takes on an unconventional spherical shape, and in addition to the engraved speech it contains another text by the artist that has been freely interpreted into the North Sámi language by the author Sigbjørn Skåden. Reflecting on a time that has passed while casting a clear look ahead, Grahn has created a polyvocal piece, both traditional and modern. It is a work of finely tuned contrasts that changes depending on the experiences and knowledge of its viewer, raising questions about the notion of the land and who it belongs to, if anyone.
Grahn’s speech now serves as a verbal introduction to public events at Konstmuseet i Norr, drawing visitors’ attention to the significance of the land they stand on, and looking towards a continued and common future for both Sámi and Swedish people. Grahn’s approach is unifying—an attempt to create a mutual understanding. Throughout her practice she ventures to mend things that she considers broken. She challenges her materials, makes mistakes, rips things up and repairs.
Through parallel and overlapping artistic and social expressions, Markerna reflects on both structural limitations and possibilities, generating questions regarding whose stories are allowed, who can tell them and what happens to those who are excluded. It broadens public understanding and challenges a simplified and segregated description of reality, contrasting an oftenaccepted narrative of history that played a role in effacing Sámi connections to the land.
Being able to take part of Grahn’s explorative process and thoughts behind the origin of the site-specific work, Markerna, has been a fantastic and partly overwhelming opportunity, and the direction this work provides to the continued development of Konstmuseet i Norr’s collection is important.
Markerna directly advances the representation of this area of the world in global contemporary art conversations and within Kiruna, an emblem of our shared responsibility to the land and the people that call this place home.
Maria Ragnestam is an independent curator focusing on contemporary art of the Barents Region. She is among the founders of the Konstmuseet i Norr, the first contemporary ar t gallery in Northern Sweden.