Experience / Exhibitions / Arctic Highways: Unbounded Indigenous People

Arctic Highways: Unbounded Indigenous People

The American Swedish Institute is hosting a special traveling exhibition featuring the artwork and duodji handcrafts of 12 Indigenous artists from Sápmi and North America. Arctic Highways shares stories of Indigenous People who live on different continents yet regard themselves as kindred spirits. Each artist tells their own stories, through their own forms of expression, inviting opportunities to explore what it means to be unbounded—not just for Indigenous People, but for all of us.  

Curated by Indigenous artists Tomas Colbengtson, Gunvor Guttorm, Dan Jåma and Britta Marakatt-Labba, Arctic Highways will include their own works alongside those of artists Matti Aikio, Marja Helander, Laila Susanna Kuhmunen, Olof Marsja, Máret Ánne Sara, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Maureen Gruben, and Meryl McMaster.   

“We are indigenous peoples who live in different countries and on different continents, and yet regard ourselves as peoples with kindred spirits. The borders of nation states, arbitrarily drawn without regard to the landscapes of our ancestors, have been used to group the Sámi people, and to set us up to fight against our brothers and sisters living on the other side, fencing in, and silencing our voices and our knowledge.   

With this exhibition we want to tell our own story, through our own experiences, using our own forms of expression. We want to provide opportunities to think broadly about what it means to be unbounded, pointing to the limits that borders set, not just for indigenous people, but for all of us.” —collective artist statement  

Photography, duodji handcraft, sculpture, textile, and moving image works will be on view in ASI’s galleries for Arctic Highways, offering visitors an opportunity to explore what’s happening in the world of Arctic art and Sámi handcraft, deepen their knowledge of local and international indigenous artists, identify contemporary movements and issues at play in Sápmi and the Arctic, and reflect on their own perceptions of Indigenous groups as a contemporary society, not something of the past.   

Also on view: 

An immersive, large-scale installation of drawing and print by Sámi artist Tomas Colbengtson and Swedish artist Stina Folkebrant, presented in collaboration with All My Relations Arts. 

The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska
Excerpts from The Sami Cultural Center of North America’s exhibition will be on view in the Turnblad Mansion. 

Nature Story Family Gallery Experience 
Don’t miss the new play-based Family Gallery exhibition designed in collaboration with Stina Folkebrant and local Minneapolis students.  


About the Arctic Highways artists:  

Matti Aikio (b. 1980) 

Aikio is a Sámi visual artist from the Finnish side of Sápmi. He has a background in Sámi reindeer herding culture and holds an MA in contemporary art from Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, and has had artwork exhibited in various countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America. He works with mixed media, photography, sound, installations, video, sculpture and text, and his main interest as an artist is to try to offer the spectators a possibility to shift perspective on often marginalized issues.  

Tomas Colbengtson (b. 1957)  

Colbengtson grew up in a small Sámi village near Björkvattnet in Tärna, under the Arctic circle in Sweden. In his artwork, he asks how colonial heritage has changed Indigenous lives and landscapes, both of the Sámi and other Indigenous peoples. Having lost his mother tongue, the Southern Sámi language, he works with visual art, using Sámi history and collective memory as the source of his art. This way, he seeks to assemble a language to formulate the loss but also rejuvenation of Sámi identity.  

Maureen Gruben (b. 1963) 

Gruben is a Canadian Inuvialuk artist who works in sculpture, installation, and public art. In her practice, polar bear fur, beluga intestines, and seal skins encounter resins, vinyl, bubble wrap and metallic tape, forging critical links between life in the Western Canadian Arctic and global environmental and cultural concerns. Gruben was born and raised in Tuktoyaktuk, where her parents were traditional knowledge keepers and founders of E. Gruben’s Transport. 

Gunvor Guttorm (b. 1958, Karasjok, Norway)  

Guttorm is a Professor in duodji (Sámi arts and crafts, traditional art, applied art) at Sámi allaskuvla/Sámi University of Applied Sciences, Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino in Norway. Her research is interconnected with cultural expression in the Sámi and Indigenous societies, especially duodji. The focus of her research deals with duodji in a contemporary setting, and Indigenous people’s context. She has written extensively about how the traditional knowledge of Sámi art and craft is transformed to the modern lifestyle.  

Marja Helander (b. 1965)  

Helander is a Sámi photographer, video artist and filmmaker with roots both in Helsinki and Utsjoki. In her work, she has studied various themes, including her own identity between the Finnish and the Sámi culture. In her art, Marja Helander often builds from her own background between two cultures, the Finnish and the Sámi culture. What drives Marja as an artist is curiosity and the willingness to always learn something new. “This is why making video art and short films has been so inspiring after a long career in photography,” Helander says. 

Dan Jåma (b. 1953)  

Jåma is a filmmaker and still photographer living in Luleå, in northern Sweden. He grew up in a reindeer-herding family in Norway. At the age of 23 he was employed at the Swedish National Television as a cinematographer, and 19 years later he began freelancing to be able to work with still photography and to direct his own films. He multitasks between filming documentaries all over the world and working with book projects in Sápmi.  

Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan, b. 1969)  

Kelliher-Combs was born in Bethel, Alaska and brought up in Nome, Alaska. Through visual art, community engagement, curation and advocacy Kelliher-Combs works to create opportunity and feature Indigenous voices and the work of contemporary artists who through their work inform and encourage social action. Her personal mixed-media visual art focuses on the changing North and our relationship to nature and each other. Traditional women’s work has taught her to appreciate the intimacy of intergenerational knowledge and material histories. These experiences and skills have allowed Kelliher-Combs to examine the connections between Western and Indigenous cultures, and to investigate notions of interwoven identity through her work.  

Laila Susanna Kuhmunen (b. 1978)  

Laila Susana is an artisan who lives in an area with two Sámi cultures: the Lule Sámi culture and the North Sámi culture. Laila Susanna’s family was forced to resettle from the north to Jokkmokk in Sweden almost one hundred years ago. This historic event is reflected in her artistic handicraft. Laila Susanna’s creativity emanates from the traditional duodji, Sámi handicraft, but at the same time it also expresses itself through methods that are a symbiosis of both the traditional and the modern.  

Britta Marakatt-Labba (b. 1951)  

Marakatt-Labba was born and raised in a reindeer-herding family. Their winter pasture was in Swedish Sápmi, and the summer grazing period was spent on the Norwegian side of Sápmi. Marakatt-Labba works with narrative, or storytelling, embroidery. Her images are miniature worlds created with needle and thread. The images depict various events and scenes from everyday life, mythology, political reflections and tales about Sámi culture and history.  

Olof Marsja (b. 1986 in Gällivare)  

Marsja is based in Gothenburg, Stockholm, and works mainly with sculptural expressions where the organic, industrially produced and the handmade are put together into ambiguous figures and objects. In his works on view in Arctic Highways, the carefully carved wood, the cast metal, the hand-blown glass coexist with the found and raw processed materials. In a playful and serious way, he addresses issues of identity, the present and history. The sculptures that emerge are hybrid figures that slide between categories such as visual arts, crafts, imagination, reality, man and animals.  

Meryl McMaster (b. 1988) 

McMaster is a Canadian artist with nêhiyaw (Plains Cree), British and Dutch ancestry based in the city of Ottawa. Her work is predominantly photography-based, incorporating the production of props, sculptural garments and performance forming a synergy that transports the viewer out of the ordinary and into a space of contemplation and introspection. She explores the self in relation to land, lineage, history, culture, and the more-than-human world.  

Máret Ánne Sara (b. 1983) 

Sara is an artist and an author. She is from a reindeer-herding family in Kautokeino, Northern Norway, and currently works in her hometown. Sara’s work deals with the political and social issues affecting the Sámi communities in general, and the reindeer-herding communities in particular. Sara has created posters, CD- and LP-covers, visual scenography and fabric prints for a number of Sámi artists, designers, and institutions. She is the initiator and founding member of Dáiddadállu Artist Collective Kautokeino. 

Photo credit: The Evening Covers Everything by Marja Helander

Exhibition Supporters

Arctic Highways: Unbounded Indigenous People is hosted by the American Swedish Institute with support from ASI’s members and donors. The exhibition’s media partner is the Star Tribune. Minnesota artist activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund

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