Inuit Art Quarterly

Carola Grahn

- by Maria Ragnestam

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.

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