Sami culture and history explored in American Swedish Institute exhibit


There are three flags flying at the American Swedish Institute (ASI) these days.

Alongside the American and Swedish flags is a rainbow colored red, blue, yellow and green flag of the Sami people. The native Sami language is part of the Uralic family that includes Finnish and Hungarian, two areas where many Mongol tribes settled after sweeping through Europe in the 13th century. The Mongols had learned about gunpowder from the Chinese, and they were quite accomplished horsemen—travelling thousands of miles from the Mongolian plains to the North Atlantic. With the advantages of light cavalry and firepower, they defeated every army in their path, but in December of 1241 the Great Khan died and the princes that had led the European invasion returned to Mongolia to elect a new Khan.

They never returned, and the tribes that remained probably became Hungary, Finland and the Sami peoples of the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.

ASI is collaborating with the local Sami-American community in sponsoring exhibits to celebrate Sami art and culture: “Eight Seasons in Sápmi, the Land of the Sámi People” and “The Spirit of Place: the Art of Kurt Seaberg and Family.”

From the ASI: They are defined by a common past, traditional crafts, and their historically nomadic herding practices, and renowned for their exquisite crafts, reindeer herding, and the 400-year-old Winter Market in Jokkmokk, Sweden.

In this exhibit, the Sámi are explored and revealed through their own artwork and artifacts, and photographs of their traditionally nomadic lifestyle. This exhibit from Jokkmokk, Sweden, is augmented by the art photography of Danish-American Birgitte Aarestrup, and prints by famed Minneapolis artist Kurt Seaberg.

From a harsh and barren environment, the Sámi retrieve and nurture a bounty of materials, creating distinctive textiles and garments, jewelry and ornamental wear, musical instruments and household wares. The reindeer is both the center of and source for much of the Sámi world. The Sámi are a thoroughly modern and highly organized people; ASI’s exhibit will speak to the Sámi’s endurance and advocacy for themselves in the 21st century.

Photographer Birgitte Aarestrup provides a rare and evocative window into the Sámi landscape and lifeways. She depicts a land of contrasts: of light and dark, of ancient culture and modern technology. A cold climate warmed by the humans inhabiting it. This exhibition presents 40 of Aarestrup’s photos in black and white as well as color. Born in Denmark and currently residing in both California and Sweden, Birgitte Aarestrup is the author of the book “8 Seasons Above the Arctic Circle: The Sámi of Lapland.”

The exhibition Eight Seasons in Sápmi, the Land of the Sámi People, was developed by three partners: Ájtte, the Swedish Mountain and Sámi Museum; Sámi Duodji, the official association for Sámi craft in Sweden; and photographer Birgitte Aarestrup. Exhibit sponsors include Jokkmokk Municipality, County Administrative Board of Norrbotten, and the Swedish Arts Council.

Eight Seasons will be on display in the Turnblad Mansion at ASI through May 26.