Transnational, trans-movement, and even trans-species solidarity and kinship emerge as guiding philosophies in two new art shows at the American Swedish Institute. Along with an impressive turnout of community members, I was lucky enough to attend an evening preview of “Arctic Highways: Unbounded Indigenous People,” an exhibition showcasing works by 12 Indigenous artists from Sápmi and North America, and “Mygration,” an installation by Tomas Colbengtson and Stina Folkebrant hosted in conjunction with All My Relations Arts. Both are on display now through May 26.
For context, Sápmi refers to a cultural region spanning the northern tip of Europe inhabited by the Indigenous Sámi people. The event included welcome and farewell performances by Indigenous musician Keith Bedeau and the Spirit Boy drum ensemble, and a panel ofartists mediated by Angela Two Stars (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate).
The exhibitions are certainly worth a visit to the ASI; many of the artworks presented in “Arctic Highways” tackle difficult conversations about displacement, colonial violence, and cultural erasure. Two screenprinted PVC banners by Sámi artist Colbengtson, who is also one of the curators, read “SÁPMIE” and BLACK LIFE MATTER,” respectively. Both phrases, printed in a bold sans-serif font, appear vandalized by paint splatter; indeed, the latter is titled “Defaced.” Colbengtson’s message is that although the state-perpetrated violences against Black Americans and Sámi people may seem materially unrelated, the mass displacement, silencing, and ecological racism are similar. In fact, they engender trans-movement and transnational solidarity, creating highways of kinship indifferent to national borders. Other artists take up a lighter—though no less urgent—tone, weaving stories of cultural continuity and claims for tribal sovereignty. Meryl McMaster and Marja Helander’s playful and striking photographs picture themselves in their respective landscapes, imbricated with the natural environment, tracing lines between the land and cultural identity.
Folkebrant’s massive grayscale acrylic paintings of migrating reindeer wrap the gallery in “Mygration.” The work is an epic of cervine movement, larger-than-life episodes depicting the eight seasons of Sápmi. Hanging throughout the installation are large, vintage photographs of Sámi emigrants who traveled to Canada and Alaska with reindeer at the turn of the century, screen printed onto plexiglass. To view Folkebrant’s panorama, one must always look at and through images of the Sámi diaspora, visualizing the historical entanglements and cross-border movements between the Sámi people and reindeer.