OCA Director Katya Garcia-Antón honouring Synnøve Persen

Published 2018/12/18

Synnøve Persen is awarded the Arts Council Honorary Prize 2018. Photo: Susanne Hætta

The Norwegian Arts Council's Honorary Prize 2018 was awarded to the poet and artist Synnøve Persen. OCA Director Katya Garcia-Antón was one of the invited speakers at the ceremony on
12 December 2018 at the National Gallery in Oslo.

Buorre eahket Oushlou!
Buorre eahket Synnøve Persen!

I acknowledge Sámi land,
as the ancestral homeland of the Sámi people.
Here the Sámi have respectfully fished and
kept reindeer since ancient times,
guided by their spiritual and world perspectives.

I offer respect to their ancestors,
to Sámi elders, to the women of Sápmi,
and specially now
to young Sámi reindeer herders,

I pay homage to their collective stories
of survival, resistance and presence
in the face of colonial mechanisms still ongoing,
that we in the arts community have the urgent
responsibility to contribute to bring to an end.*

Tonight I am deeply humbled by the privilege
of lending my voice to honour the Sámi
and international arts protagonist,
Synnøve Persen.

and an inspiration to us all.

Synnøve, you once told me that as a young child,
you were, as thousands of Sámi children,
interned in a Norwegian boarding school,
where Sami languages were banned.

There you took an early leadership role,
translating between languages and worlds,
to help peers in the class.

It is not hard to see how that little girl
became the courageous hunger striker
at the fore front of the Álta Action.

The relentless organiser and co-founder of
the Sámi Daiddačepiid Searvi (Sami Artist Union),
the Sámi Girječalli Searvi (Sámi Writer’s Association),
and the Mázejoavvku/Sami Daiddajoavvku (Sámi Artists Group).

These were all foundational pillars towards
Sámi self-determination.

Let us hope that the new White Paper on
Culture calling for the arts sector across
the country, to engage meaningfully
and ethically with arts from Sápmi
will contribute to expand upon your legacy.
Building Sámi cultural strength and independence
– as was the vision of Mázejoavvku and other
organisations – resulting in respectful relations with Sápmi.

For today it is, quite simply, culturally unacceptable
not to answer this call substantially,
with concrete and immediate
decolonial changes.

Together with your peers Synnøve,
you did not wait for budgetary allocations
to take your actions, you did them anyway.

Such leadership stems no doubt from an
explosive inner force, which went on to find
many outlets, such as the arts,
for which you have gained international recognition.

Amongst the prints and paintings that took the
international art world by storm when they
were displayed in Documenta14
the colour red (next to blue and yellow)
held centre stage.

For you, red is a hue of flaming grief and fiery joy.
You used it to subvert Modernity ́s construction
of abstraction as a hegemonic art.

It also speaks of ČSV,
of building a Sámi spirit,
Sámi nationhood, and its flag.

If in your canvases, the pulse of colour is key,
rhythm is also the conductor
of an electrifying poetry
that spans continents.

You shape single words that rise,
as tall as mountains.

You braid phrases
that caress softly,
as a goose ́s down-feather.

You carve out silences,
that traverse us like a jagged rock
plummeting into the sombre depths of history.

Running throughout your practices,
is a commitment to the land,
to the sea,
to your beloved,
and the conviction that Sápmi
“Always was and always will be”
(to borrow a fellow Indigenous dictum).

Your work is tied to the blood–lines of those
who have battled, fallen
and survived against so much,
and who have pacted, with their souls,
never to give in.

Over and beyond this,
I am certain that those fortunate to
have crossed your path,
will carry with them
a part of your enduring flame.

And for all of this and so much more,
dear Synnøve I am most privileged on behalf of OCA,
to join the arts sector,
and so many international colleagues
whose admiration you have gained,
to honour you tonight,

and offer you two thanks,
for they are one.

Ollu giitu Synnøve Persen!

Ollu giitu Sápmi!

* Protocol of introduction inspired by First Nation and Aboriginal protocols honouring country, as well as by the skáhppu/protocol that Sámi artist Carola Grahn donated this year to Kiruna Museum, Sápmi/Northern Sweden, 2018