Sapmi: Saminiatures

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Sami Artists

To plan the migrations of their reindeer, the Sami use neither diaries nor GPS. They check the weather and when the skies are ready, they are ready. There is an indissoluble link between the reindeer and the Sami; in fact, in Scandinavian countries, when people talk of reindeer herders, they are referring to the Sami. In the Sami language the term eallin – life – derives from the word eallu, herd of reindeer.

Markku Laakso - At the Fire (2017)

The Sami are a minority population living mainly across four nations, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, forming an ethnically and politically close transnational nucleus, with small communities also located in North America.

Lina Maria Viitala - Guided path (2016)

Nadia Fenina (Nadezhda Lyashenko) - Triptych #1, Triptych #2, Triptych #3 (2016)

The first attestations of settlements in Scandinavia date back to 6,000 BC. While it is uncertain which populations these were, what we do know is the Sami are the first ethnic group we have evidence of in this region.

Gjert Rognli - Lord, Come Down (Hearra, njieja vuolas) (2017)

Little is known of this people until the Viking Age, however, given the total absence of direct testimonies: the ancients had shrouded the Arctic lands and their inhabitants in mystery, creating the Eden-like legend of the Hyperboreans. Or, on the contrary, consigning to those distant lands a terrifying population of semi-humans. These beliefs were so strong that traces of them can be found in the writings of Roman historians.

Ingunn Judith Moen Reinsnes - Alit (blue) (2017)

Paolo Diacono, one of the greatest historians of the Middle Ages, born between 720 and 724 to a noble Lombard family, was among the first to refer to a people of skiers who lived with an animal not very different from deer and to associate them with such astronomical phenomena as the alternation of long periods of light and darkness.

Niklas Sarri - Untitled #1, Untitled #2, Untitled #3 (2017)

In the first centuries after Christ, the Sami had already begun to push northward as a result of the expansion of new settlers in the same area: the Vikings and the Finns were the first organized societies with whom they came into contact, with whom they began to integrate, and to whom they paid taxes.

Synnøve Persen - Destiny Day (2017)

Sameland, or Sápmi, was a land rich in natural resources that triggered a century-long story of conflicts and abuses, in the fight to establish control. In a speech delivered in 1997 at the official opening of the Sámediggi (the Sami Parliament), King Harald V of Norway apologized for the way in which the Sami had been treated in the past: “The state of Norway was founded on the territory of two peoples – the Sami people and the Norwegians. Sami history is closely intertwined with Norwegian history. Today, we express our regret on behalf of the state for the injustice committed against the Sami people through its harsh policy of Norwegianization.”

Grethe Gunneng - Silene aucalis (2017)

At present, the greatest challenges the Sami face are climate change and keeping pace with modernity without sacrificing their culture, traditions and values. “Our contact with nature is strong,” said Aili Keskitalo, who has been the president of the Norwegian Sami Parliament since 2013. While admitting to working in a modern office, sending emails and driving a car, she adds: “When I go home I eat the fish caught by my husband, the jam made by my daughter, the reindeer brought to me by a relative. We know how important it is to use only part of the resources, and leave the rest for the future.”

Eidnár Pedersen - From my Window (2017)

Liselotte Wajstedt - Everything Starts from the End (2016)

Social and economic transformations, unfortunately, amplify the impact of climate change, with the loss of pastures, the death of reindeer, rivers plundered by hordes of fishermen and tourists, and increasingly limited and regulated hunting areas. The average temperature here is increasing at a speed three times greater than global values; vegetation is changing, the permafrost is retreating and the snow is no longer the same. Moreover, with climate change, the doors to the Arctic are opening and the polar region will soon become an easy target for those who wish to exploit its riches: hydrocarbons, diamonds, nickel, but also fishing reserves and the immense forest areas which account for 40% of the world’s forest cover.

Hanne Grete Einarsen - Vandre, Vandre I. Vandre II (2017)

The mutual misunderstanding between our world and the Sami consequently remains strong, as Johan Turi had already noted in 1910, in the volume Muittalus Samid Birra (An Account of the Sami), published in Danish alongside the original Sami version: “when a Sami becomes closed up in a room, then he does not understand much of anything, because he cannot put his nose to the wind. His thoughts don’t flow because there are walls and his mind is closed in. And it is also not good at all for him to live in dense forest when the air is warm. But when a Sami is on the high mountains, then he has quite a clear mind. And if there were a meeting place on some high mountain, then a Sami could make his own affairs quite plain.”

Anna Seaberg - Arctic Psychedelia (2016)

Prior to the period of massive homologation and ‘education to discredit’ their traditional culture, the Sami were very proud of their language, whose descriptive terminology of the Arctic landscape and their lifestyle is unsurpassed, counting, for example, about 150 terms to specify the different qualities of snow and a huge lexicon to describe reindeer. But forced linguistic integration until the 1970s did not only mean that the majority of Sami did not learn to write in their own language, it also meant that the dignity of their culture was taken away. Nevertheless, the oldest text printed in this idiom, a prayer book, dates back to 1619, while the first Sami Bible was translated and published in 1884 by the Lutheran pastor, writer and botanist of Sami descent, Lars Levi Læstadius, author of the so-called spiritual awakening of the Arctic people.

Hilde Skancke Pedersen - Protected Land (2017)

Matti Aikio - Stolen Land, Stolen Language, Stolen Identity (2017)

The work of one of the revivalists of Sami culture towards the end of the 1960s, Paulus Utsi, took the same direction. He intended to write a trilogy on the power of the language, but only managed to complete the first two volumes, Giela giela (Ensnare the language) published in 1974 and Giela gielain (Ensnare with the language) published in 1980. The first poetic collection is a call to take control of the language; the second explains that the language itself represents a trap, or indeed a weapon. The play on words in the title is possible because in Sami the same expression means ‘learning a language’ and ‘looking to see if there is anything caught
in the trap’.

Egil Pedersen - Real #2 (2017)

Karen Hilja Weaver - Heart of the Earth (2016)

For the Sami, language is an expression of a holistic culture that understands everything around it (landscapes, humans, animals) to be an inseparable part of the identity of the individual: the natural world dwells in man and vice versa. The joik (or yoik, also called luohti) represents the Sami musical and poetic tradition. Initially, the mystical domain of the noaidi (shaman) and expressly banned, on pain of death, by a Danish king, the joik is based on a millennial sense of belonging to a place, a family, a people. It represents a way of remembering, or connecting an individual with the deepest feelings expressed by the theme of the song, bringing together different eras, people and landscapes.

Into Toivonen - Reindeer Love #1, Reindeer Love #2,Reindeer Love #3 (2016)

In the words of Professor Veli-Pekka Lehtola, professor of Sami Culture at the Giellagas Institute at the University of Oulu, Finland: “the language of millions is not like a single language; it is like a school of herring all swimming in the same direction. The language of a small people is like a small fox, unprotected by a pack. It has to look out for itself and hear danger in order to avoid it, it looks about and sees the others. Majority peoples, who are losing their grip on how to stay alive, have much to learn from a small fox.”

Edith Nutti - Wooden Skyline, White (shades of snow) (2017)

Brad E. Nelson - Red Rooster (2016)

If the fate of indigenous peoples such as the Sami is dependent on how well Western society understands them and the extent of their interest, it is perhaps also true that the future of Western society depends on how well it listens to those primitive voices.

Katharine H.A. Johnson - Ađa: Marrow (2016)

In this sense, the Imago Mundi collection dedicated to the Sami people is a clear representation of a world, a tradition, a geographical and mental landscape that invites us to stop thinking about where, and at what speed, we are going.

Melvin R. Mattson & Pamela Capin - Sami Drum (2016)

The 140 10x12 cm works in the collection, created by artists of all ages, show above all a formidable impressionistic quality that recalls the profound simplicity of a joik: I run in the mountains, wander on the bare ridges, I climb the high mountain peak, I stroll in the forest looking at the rocks, I sit there pondering things, and remember my wonderful childhood days.


Ulrika Tapio Blind - Be kind (2017)

Credits: Story

Art direction, photography and production
Project management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd.
Guja Mabellini
Lars Nordby
Marlene Wisuri
Tina Sovkina
Project coordinator
Oriano Mabellini
Giorgia De Luca
Barbara Liverotti
Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan
Luciano Benetton
Guja Mabellini
Marlene Wisuri
Egil Pedersen - Real #1 (front)

Special thanks to
Fondazione Sarenco
Oksana Ignatush
Sámi Dáiddaguovddáš
Elisabeth Heilmann Blind
Sami Cultural Center of North America
Frøydis Falch Urbye (Ságat)
Translation and editing
Emma Cole
Sarah Cuminetti
Giorgia De Luca
Valentina Granzotto
Pietro Valdatta
Art direction
Namyoung An
Photography of artworks
Marco Zanin
Photography of artists
Guja Mabellini
Anna Sakmarkina
Alexander Stepanenko
Marco Pavan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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