Sami Stories at Scandinavia House

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Scandinavia House, on Park Avenue near Grand Central, is one of my favorite under-the-radar places in New York City. It’s almost always quiet, never busy, has a great (but pricey) Nordic café named Smörgås Chef; and shows excellent films and free art exhibitions.

Currently, Scandinavia House is hosting Sámi Stories: Art and Identity of an Arctic People, an exhibit examining the history, identity, politics, and visual culture of the Sámi. While small, the exhibit covers artwork in a variety of forms: tapestry, woodcut, sculpture, video, and photography; alongside historical and cultural artifacts such as a baby’s cradle (pictured above), knives, and hats.

The exhibition runs through August 23rd and is accompanied by a series of lectures, workshops, and films.

My favourite piece was this linen and thread work by Britta Marakatt-Labba, a Swedish Sámi textile artist and painter.

Crows by Britta Marakatt-Labba

Crows by Britta Marakatt-Labba

The Crows depicts a group of people gathered around lavvo (Sámi tents) at a protest camp. A flock of crows descends and gradually transforms into police officers. The piece is a reference to the Alta River protests of the late 1970s and early 1980s when a hydroelectric power plant was planned for the Alta River in Finnmark that would have flooded the Sámi village of Máze. Sámi people used non-violent action to protest the plant, including holding a hunger strike outside the Norwegian parliament. When work on the plant began in 1981, thousands of protestors chained themselves to the site and were forcibly removed by police — at one point, 10 percent of the entire national police force was stationed at the site.

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