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A piece by Pieski, 47 Most Wanted Foremothers, shown in the background, contains images of ládjogahpir headgear from the collections of various European museums. The piece is part of an art and research project by Pieski and researcher Eeva-Kristiina Nylander, Máttaráhku ládjogahpir – Foremother´s Hat of Pride. Photo: Omar El Mrabt, the Finnish Heritage Agency

The Homecoming exhibition creating a new way to illustrate Sámi culture

Exhibitions, Museums

In Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming, works by Sámi crafters and pieces by contemporary artists interact with the collection items selected for the exhibition. In addition to that, the exhibition includes numerous texts and stories by Sámi storytellers, stories told by artefacts and archive material, such as photographs and yoik singing. Opening on Sunday 31 October, the exhibition breaks away from the colonialist ways in which museums tend to present Sámi culture.

Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming, produced together by the Sámi Museum Siida and the National Museum of Finland, is about repatriation, i.e. the return of cultural heritage, highlighting the meaning of this heritage to people and identities in general.

Together with the working group, the visual direction has been carried out by Outi Pieski, who was also in charge of selecting the artwork, and Lada Suomenrinne, who created the graphic designs. The exhibition also showcases pieces by Matti Aikio and Marja Helander, as well as duodji by Elle Valkeapää, Ilmari Tapiola, Tuomas Venäläinen, Armi Mikkilä, Juulianna Näkkäläjärvi and Heini Wesslin, and a soundscape created by Laura Tapiola and Pekka Aikio.

‘The exhibition is a combination of visual arts, Sámi duodji handicrafts and yoik songs, which engage in a dialogue with the museum artefacts and the exhibition’s themes,’ says Pieski.

The purpose of the artworks is to highlight the connection that the Sámi culture has with the ground.

‘It is a foundation based on which our cultural heritage and the knowledge and skills it involves can be interpreted. The pieces illustrate an element of the Sámi culture – respect towards nature – and external threats caused by industrial land use,’ says Pieski.

According to her, visual tradition created by different cultural circles is often valued differently as well. A minority culture’s visual culture is traditionally showcased in ethnographical museums, while western visual culture can be viewed in art museums. The exhibition includes crafts made by five Sámi crafters – duojár artists – inspired by the collection artefacts. They represent designs, patterns and techniques that have become rare or even disappeared.

‘The exhibition aims to add new layers of interpretation and more extensive conceptual levels, traditionally used to view creative expression considered to be art, to how the duodji and the museum artefacts are seen. Our forebears were great lifestyle artists, and the duodji they made form an entire creative system of knowledge and meaning, which modern-day creators continue to utilise in both their duodji and art,’ Pieski adds.

The exhibition also includes Pieski’s artwork, 47 Most Wanted Foremothers, showing images of ládjogahpir headgear from the collections of various European museums. The piece is part of an art and research project Máttaráhku ládjogahpir – Foremother’s Hat of Pride by Pieski and researcher Eeva-Kristiina Nylander (former Harlin), which began in 2017 during a repatriation process of a Sámi collection in Norway.

‘Not only did we want to bring these hats into light from the museum archives, we also wanted to use them to create a powerful matriarchal set. The piece is a call for the foremothers to return back to Sápmi from various museums around Europe to help with the Sámi communities’ decolonisation process, for example when it comes to equality,’ says Pieski.

In autumn 2021, the National Museum of Finland repatriated its collection to the Sámi Museum Siida, but the majority of headgear in the collections of museums in Finland and abroad have yet to be returned.

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A wooden ahkio sled of Oula Aikio from Vuotso is part of artist Matti Aikio’s piece made for the exhibition, The Archives of Matti Aikio: Alit geres (2010–2021). Image: Omar El Mrabt, the Finnish Heritage Agency

New way of exhibiting is breaking norms

For more than a century, the National Museum of Finland has illustrated Sámi culture in various exhibitions. The museum has had a significant role in how the Sámi are seen in Finland. However, the exhibitions have been created by the museum’s researchers and collectors, and therefore they have represented the views of the dominant culture rather than the genuine Sámi culture. This is made evident, for example, by the archive pictures included in the exhibition.

Lada Suomenrinne and her exhibition working group wanted to use visual means and exhibition content to study how a museum exhibition could help the museum sector become decolonised.

‘Exhibitions about Sámi culture are often dark and gloomy. I wanted to find out how visual means could be used to show all the contrasts that exist in that culture. It is our responsibility to decide on the colour scheme to illustrate our culture, whether we want it to be dark and mythical or bright and more colourful, vibrant and more modern,’ says Suomenrinne.

The exhibition working group
challenged itself to cross the boundaries between the ethnographical and art museums.

‘Modern museums must find ways to break the norms and conventions of how things are presented,’ says Suomenrinne.

Could objects be showcased in an unexpected way? How much text is too much and how many layers of narrative can a visitor absorb?

‘I was able to take part in creating a representation of the Sámi mindset. We made the exhibition rich and heavy in terms of content, and the weight of the texts counterbalances the bright colour scheme.'

The exhibition includes artworks by Suomenrinne, located in two halls. She says she viewed the art project from another perspective, asking what objects can see and where they go.

‘I studied the transition of objects in a piece I did not make for myself, but for the objects. I thought about objects when they return home. They have been packed away and hidden in an archive. But they have a spirit and a soul, and it is important to remember that amidst all the academic debate,’ Suomenrinne says.

Yleisöohjelmassa tekijäopastuksia, Äärellä-keskusteluita, elokuvaa, klubeja

Näyttely on esillä Kansallismuseossa 27.2.2022 asti. Näyttelyyn liittyy runsaasti yleisöohjelmaa, joka on ajantasaisimmillaan esitelty museon verkkosivulla.