The Sámi artists Máret Ánne Sara, Anders Sunna, and Pauliina Feodoroff will represent Sápmi at the 2022 Venice Biennale, where they will transform the Nordic pavilion into a Sámi pavilion. This was revealed at a press conference streamed by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) from the Sámi Parliament in Karasjok this Wednesday. In a press release, OCA describes the Sámi participation as a historic moment: “For the first time, only Sámi artists will be presented in a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and for the first time, the Sámi will be recognised as a nation in a pavilion that bears their name.”
Katya García-Antón, director of OCA, will curate the pavilion together with Sámi researcher Liisa-Rávná Finbog and Sámi nature conservationist Beaska Niillas, both of whom practise duodji – a practise that is commonly associated with traditional crafts, but is more accurately understood as a worldview. García-Antón believes that the coronavirus pandemic, the effects of climate change, and the awareness of issues surrounding decolonisation have prompted an increased focus on the future of humans and the planet, and on alternatives to what we are doing now.
She told Kunstkritikk that the three artists are guiding voices of their generation, who “counteract the impact that colonialism has had on their lives, bringing together experiences shared by so many people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in our world today.”
Sápmi is the territory spanning Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden traditionally inhabited by the Sámi, an Indigenous People. Sunna, Feodoroff, and Sara all come from different part of the region. Hailing from Kieksiisvaara in the Swedish part of Sápmi, Anders Sunna works with painting, graffiti, and sculpture. He creates politically-charged images that problematise the abuse of power, the exploitation of land and natural resources, and racist persecution of the Sámi people. “Having this happen now means a lot to Sápmi, but being able to represent Sápmi is also important to my own work as an artist,” Sunna told Kunstkritikk.
Feodoroff is a Skolt Sámi artist, theatre director, and conservationist from the Finnish and Russian parts of Sápmi. She has previously been president of the Saami Council and highlights how the Sámi community has been assimilated by and subject to the laws of the four nation states that have established themselves over Sápmi. Feodoroff describes the transformation of the Nordic pavilion into a Sámi pavilion as “an act of solidarity for those nations, such as ours, that do not have a national state as a way of organizing and governing ourselves,” adding that, “the national states are going through an identity and existential crisis, in the midst of collapsing ecosystems and rootlessness.” She thinks the prevailing inequality between the majority populations and the Sámi people is mainly due to the lack of autonomous government. “We do not have a national state. And still, we do not want one. We already have our own ways of being. Just let us be.”
Máret Ánne Sara believes that the artists’ Indigenous perspective, thoughts, works, and presence make an important contribution to the colonial setting of the national pavilions in Venice. “This reversal and recognition of our presence may in itself change the energy, the experience and perception of the place, of the origins of nation states, and of what we today call the Nordic countries,” Sara said. In 2017, she contributed Pile o’Sápmi to Documenta 14, a work comprising four hundred reindeer skulls, in a pointed political protest against the Norwegian authorities’ forced slaughter of a flock of reindeer herded by Sara’s brother.
OCA’s project team also includes international Indigenous advisers Brook Andrew, who curated the Sydney Biennale in 2020, and artist and educator Wanda Nanibush. Each participating artist has also chosen an individual elder to guide them. Feodoroff will be guided by Sámi educator and professor emeritus Asta M. Balto, Sara by reindeer herder and Sámi knowledge bearer Káren Utsi, and Sunna by Sámi professor of law and yoiker Ánde Somby.
Postponed one year due to the pandemic, the 59th Venice Biennale is scheduled to open to the public on 23 April 2022 and run until 27 November.