Acknowledgement of the Sámi people

OCA acknowledges the Sámi as one people, and as the Indigenous people of the Fennoscandian region. On the land of this region, Sápmi, the Sámi people have lived since time immemorial, respectfully harvesting from nature by fishing, farming, hunting and following reindeer, amongst other activities.

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Anders Sunna

Anders Sunna

Illegal Spirits of Sápmi (2022)
Mixed media, sound, archive documents

Sámi Elder: Ánde Somby

In collaboration with the Sunna family, Nils-Erik Sunna, Per-Olof Sydfeldt Sunna, Michiel Brouwer.

Anders Sunna Illegal Spirits of Sapmi 2022 Photo Michael Miller OCA Michael Miller OCA DSC4819
Anders Sunna, 'Illegal Spirits of Sápmi', 2022. Exhibition view: ‘The Sámi Pavilion’, 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 'The Milk of Dreams', Venice (23 April–27 November 2022). Photo: Michael Miller / OCA © Michael Miller / OCA
Anders Sunna, 'Illegal Spirits of Sápmi', 2022. Exhibition view: ‘The Sámi Pavilion’, 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 'The Milk of Dreams', Venice (23 April–27 November 2022).
DSC4858
Anders Sunna, 'Illegal Spirits of Sápmi', 2022. Exhibition view: ‘The Sámi Pavilion’, 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 'The Milk of Dreams', Venice (23 April–27 November 2022). Photo: Michael Miller / OCA © Michael Miller / OCA
Anders Sunna and Beaska Niillas
Co-curator Beaska Niillas and Anders Sunna in Sunna's studio. Photo: Michael Miller / OCA © Michael Miller / OCA

Imagine being able to speak all the world’s languages without saying a sound. To reach people’s hearts first and then their consciousness. The anger you are carrying suddenly finds a way to emerge but in a more creative form, stronger than iron. Art is that.

—Anders Sunna

Sunna comes from a family of forest reindeer herders, in Kieksiäisvaara on the Swedish side of Sápmi, whose ancestral reindeer herding life has been progressively affected by centuries of colonization. In 1971 the Swedish state passed a law that breaches international conventions protecting Indigenous peoples’ rights, and deeply affected herders. The Sunna family’s resistance kicked off in earnest at this time. Over the last 50 years it has grown in determination as the state removed the Sunna reindeer ear marks, inherited across generations, making them into outlaws on their own land.

Illegal Spirits of Sápmi bears witness to this story, each painting addressing consecutive decades. The last, presented as burnt remains after Sunna set fire to it, proposes the sixth decade as an empowered and healed future. The paintings are displayed in free-standing units, hand-built with his brothers, with folders documenting the numerous court cases marking their struggle that can be consulted by the visitors. Six sonic dioramas accessed through QR codes, offer spatial and sensorial depth to the narration through layered excerpts from the family sound archive of courtroom proceedings, field recordings, music environments, dialogues and a performative voice.

The paintings use collage as a structuring device to present the many threads of the Sunna’s experience; the juxtaposed images take a literary form as a Sámi counter-narrative of history and of colonial Sweden. They have a documentary impulse, portraying the figures responsible for the conflict and depicting specific instances of it in a pictorial language legible to the Western eye. However, they are also coded with symbols drawn from Sámi spiritual knowledge. For example, in the first painting Sunna reveals the power asymmetry of the courtroom, bearing witness to ‘the persecution that took away our nourishment and culture ... [so that the] Sámi would become slaves and Swedes lords over the Sámi.’ However, at the centre of the image the artist portrays the Sámi goavddis, the sacred drum. Burnt, stolen and banned by colonisers the goavddi’s presence here is an act of spiritual resistance and familial empowerment, as visible (and protected) within it are images of his relations taken from the family album.

Earlier this year the Swedish Church offered a public apology for centuries of misdoing to the Sámi people, Sunna was commissioned to prepare the visual staging for the ceremony. In addition, Sweden has started to prepare for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission addressing Nordic colonialism (Finland and Norway have already launched theirs). Within this context of spiritual and political transformation the Sunna family’s personal and collective call demands that Sámi ways of being, doing, seeing and thinking, across all nation state borders that traverse Sápmi, be honoured.

Anders Sunna Illegal Spirits of Sapmi 2022 Photo Michael Miller OCA Michael Miller OCA DSC4843
Anders Sunna, 'Illegal Spirits of Sápmi', 2022. Exhibition view: ‘The Sámi Pavilion’, 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 'The Milk of Dreams', Venice (23 April–27 November 2022). Photo: Michael Miller / OCA © Michael Miller / OCA

Sonic dioramas – concept: Anders Sunna, Gaby Hartel; dramaturgy, script and audio direction: Gaby Hartel; sound design and composition: zeitblom; voices: Anders Sunna, Bosse Sunna, Britt-Inger Sunna, Lars-Göran Sunna, Elina Israelsson, Gaby Hartel; sound technicians: Fabian Brokof / Popschutz Studio, Tony Österholm / LjudBang; production: Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) in collaboration with Deutschlandfunk, Germany.

Listen here:

The sonic dioramas was converted to a radio play titled Anders Sunna, Illegal Spirits of Sapmi – Arctic Kafka (2022) that premiered 23 April on Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

Listen here:

Portrait film of Anders Sunna by Forest People AS. Commissioned by OCA, 2020