6. Art activities and the formation of a Sámi Artist group.
I started my career as an artist by both writing and also by making pictures. Both of them went hand in hand so to speak, because I was far from sure which to choose.
In fact, have I had the possibility, I would have become a musician, perhaps even a composer. But that would mean mastering at least one instrument, and I realized to my sorrow, that it was too late. I left the excellent tutoring of Madame Fosse Strand at
Markveien in Storskogen and her piano lessons after just one year, despite the fact that she claimed I learnt as much as others would in two, I was too impatient, and would rather play outside with friends than at the keyboard. Not a totally surprising conclusion
for an active boy of 12. Had I instead continued, I might have had a much better chance to fulfill that later dream, but such is life! However, throughout my school days, my interests and abilities pointed in a direction of creative activities, and I was already
considered to be good at drawing, even in high school, where I graduated in 1966. I had written my thesis in History about the fall of the Inca empire, as a drama Den siste Inka (The Last Inca), to the great astonishment of my teacher. However, it
My early art activities
Apart from writing poems and drama, including one that won third and only price in a drama contest in 1979/70, I eventually ventured into the art of drawing and painting with full force,
since two of my paintings were accepted at the annual regional Exhibition “Nordnorsken” in 1969. And my choice was confirmed in 1970 when another of my paintings “Máná niekko, –… Stallo / Barnedrøm”
was accepted at the even more prestigious National Art Exhibition “Høstutstillingen” in 1970. I have reason to believe that this was the first time an artwork with a Sámi title entered this particular event. This resulted in a lot
of interest from the media, i.e. newspapers and radio, and I had no choice but to enter admission application for the Art School in Oslo. I initially did not want to do so, because I hated the thought of not living in the north, but my years in Oslo became
fruitful as well. I spent 2 years at the Art and Crafts School, and then applied and was accepted at the Art Academy. I remember Professor Vorren said he was skeptical to that idea, but at least John Savio had attended classes at the former.
my years at these institutions, I learnt of course the basics in various techniques, freehand drawing, the basis of all art, I was told; technical drawing, painting in various media (water colour, tempera) and eventually graphic techniques, metal (cold needle,
etching, aquatint), wood block and lino printing, and lithography. I concentrated on the latter as far as graphic was concerned, knowing that I probably would not get another chance at such a resource-demanding technique, up north. I also started wood block
printing, and broke the ban on it that I had put on myself after watching the elaborate preparatory work involved before the actual printing took place, as demonstrated earlier by my fellow town artist Marit Bockelie. There was one graphic technique I never
tried, because of the smell: silkscreen printing. Per Kleiva was a well-known artist who had made many famous prints, and a French co-student gave me one print. But I was a bit afraid of the enclosed rooms with the dangerous vapors. I even saw one older female
artist come out of there in a state of “drunkenness”, so I decided that I would never try it as long as the conditions were as they were then. And I never did. Lithography and woodblock printing was more than enough for me, and I used the possibilities
to the full.
As a Sámi activist, I was concerned with the status of Sámi art in general, we were not alone any more, we were alert and did not hesitate to speak out for what we saw as Sámi rights to our own culture.
One topic of interest was the famous Guovdageaidnu uprising of Nov 8th 1852.
Here is a letter concerning the plans to make a film about this, and our rejection of the plan, on the ground that it is yet again to be made by non-Sámi:
“SKAL KAUTOKEINO-OPPRØRET FILMES ?
(kommentar til melding i avisene aug.73)
Hvorfor er det bestandig ikke-samer som skal "bruke" stoff som egentlig er samiske anliggender?
Er ikke Kautokeino-opprøret
enda et litt for ømtålelig og brennbart stoff for en film, som likevel neppe kan gi et helt korrekt bilde av forholdene, fordi det atter en gang er daža som skal presentere det ?
Hvorfor kan ikke utenforstående vente med sin
interesse og initiativ til samene selv får muligheteen til å presentere stoffet, dersom de da mener dette er ønskelig ?
Dette gjelder ikke bare film-prosjekt, men alle forhold som har til hensikt å 'presentere' samiske forhold.
Har man spurt de samene dette angår, hva de mener ?
Tror virkelig Pål Bang-Hansen fra Oslo at dažat via en slik film kan danne et riktig bilde av opprøret i 1852 ? Dette er spørsmål som han må tenke og
svare på, før et slikt omfattende filmprosjekt blir satt igang.
Samene er ikke tjent med en lettvint behandling av et så vanskelig og dyptpløyende stoff, og vi mener at d e t lett kan bli resultatet dersom det ikke
blir tatt hensyn til ovenstående.
Tilslutt vil vi stille et åpent spørsmål til Kirke- og Undervisningsdepartement: Hvem innen KUD godkjenner dette prosjekt ? Er samene og deres organisasjoner (NSR, NRL) med på avgjørelsen
Kautokeino 8.september 1973
Johs.Kalvemo Hans Ragnar Mathisen Marit Oskal Nils Eira”
(“SHALL THE GUOVDAGEAIDNU UPRISING BECOME FILM? (Comment on a message in
the media august 1973)
Why is it always non-Sámi that should “use” topic material that strictly is Sámi affairs? Is not the Guovdageaidnu uprising still too touchy and controversial a topic for a film, which nonetheless
hardly can give a completely relevant picture of the circumstances, because yet again it is to be presented by Dáža (slightly derogative for a non-Sámi in general, a Scandinavian in particular: Dáža = Danish)?
outsiders wait with their interest and initiatives until Sámit get the capability to present the topic, if they regard it as beneficiary? This goes not only for film-projects, but all initiatives aiming to “present” Sámi circumstances.
Are the Sámit for whom this is of concern been asked about their opinion?
Does Mr. Pål Bang Hansen from Oslo really believe that Dažat via a movie like this can give a proper representation of the uprising
in 1852? These are questions he ought contemplate and solve, before such an enormous undertaking is to be commenced.
Sámit are not being well served by a superficial treatment of such a difficult and deeply spiritual and social topic,
and we are of the opinion that just that might be the result if the above is not considered earnestly.
Finally we would like to ask an open question to the State Department of Church and Education: Who within your staff will accept this
project? Are the Sámit and their organizations (NSR, NRL) to partake in the decision?
Guovdageaidnu 8. September 1973
Johs.Kalvemo Hans Ragnar Mathisen Marit Oskal Nils
A similar incident was when the music company Arne Bendiksen published an EP-record with a sloppy version of a Sámi Yoik (the so-called “Ante” yoik) with instrumentation and coda
in the form of a popular melody, as if composed by a Norwegian composer, and not properly acknowledging the original. We saw this as an unacceptable abuse of Sámi music and culture, and Inga Eriksen (Inga Sara Eriksen, later better known as Inga Juuso)
who had worked at Arne Bendiksen company, joined Ailo Gaup and me in writing a public protest against it. We received only a scornful reply via telephone bordering on racism.
Oslo Sámi Association and some of its members acted as
a watchdog towards any attempt of the Norwegian Government or others against Sámi Rights as an Indigenous people. But the main effort was put into creative art, the renewal of an old culture. Slowly and steadily this creativity resulted in an increasing
number of young and old Sámi contributing creatively to a tide-wave that was not to be stopped, the re-vitalization of our nation.
I made sketches and logo for the ČSV symbol, not as a commission, but out of the conviction that it was needed.
Before I came to Oslo, I had sent a suggestion to the editor of Ságat Sámi Newspaper (most of its texts were in Norwegian) to suggest a competition for a Sámi flag, and delivered some sketches as well. However, since these were in colour,
and probably because the editor though it a bit too risky, the text was never printed. And it was returned to me.
The idea of a Sámi Artists’ Collective
When I was studying at the Arts and Crafts School in
Oslo (SHKS) 1971-73 there was only one other Sámi artist, if one do not reckon those who might be Sámi without knowing, accepting or revealing it, and it was Berit Marit Hætta from Máze. The largest newspaper in Norway at the
time Aftenposten presented an illustrated feature article about the Sámit in Oslo “Naturfolk i storbyjungel” (“People of Nature in a city jungle”) written Aslak Gaup in their weekend magazine A-Magasinet No. 28, 14. July 1973
with photo of two of us in the Art School’s sculpture studio.
As is mentioned in the article, many of us did not plan to stay in Oslo, but to go north to our homeland and start our careers there. When this photo was taken during the late spring
of 1973, we had already been considering the idea of joining efforts. This photo represents not only the nucleus of the coming Sámi Artist Group, it is already a group in itself, and consequently the very start of Sámi Artist Organizing as far
as creative art (painting, graphic, drawing, sculpture, etc.) is concerned. Another consequence of this claim is that this part of history must be rewritten.
In 1974 and 1975 there were several important public Sámi meetings,
Nordic Sámi Conference 26. – 29. 06. 1974 at Snoase/Snåsa, where tragically part of the delegation from Finland was lost, their airplane has never been found. After the political meetings during the day, there were cultural celebrations
in the evenings, as well as a large barbeque outside. Being present there, I used of course the opportunity to tell about the plans and hopes for Sámi artists under education in Norway to go back north and work for a common aim, and we welcomed participants
from the other Nordic countries as well. Artists Rose Marie Huuva and Folke Fjällström were there.
Then there was the Sáminuorra (Sámi Youth Conference) at Ammernjárga in the summer where there were several young Sámi
artists present. I also presented the blueprint copy of my Sápmi Map here.
Debut exhibition in a Sámi village
During this time Alf Isak Keskitalo was the leader of the Cultural department of Sámi Institute
in Guovdageaindu, and he was very helpful in realizing my own Art Exhibition there during the Easter Festival 1975. In had graphic art and watercolours in the basement of their rented building, and oil paintings at the SII’DA building a bit south of
the village center. This was the first time an artist in Norway and Sápmi has a debut exhibition not in a town or city of the south, but in a Sámi village. It was considered remarkable. By doing this, I tried to bring our hart back home, where
it belongs, and later the same exhibition was shown both in Karasjok and Deatnu.
At the Art Academy there was in 1976 one hospitant who ventured to make a print for a Sámi flag, it was Synnøve Persen from Porsanger.
I immediately recognized that it was an identical reproduction of an already existing design printed as the cover of the Sámi bibliography from 1971. Since I was not sure who had made it, I did not comment on that further. But I told her that in my
opinion this was not fit for a flag - after all it had already been used for other purposes; it was too simple, but perhaps it would be better for a long triangular flyer (vimpel) instead. So she made a print with these, which was much better. I have later
thought that perhaps I should have claimed the originator of that flyer, especially since the much later controversy about the origin of the flag design. It was later also used by Berit Marit Hætta as illustration on the cover of the book “Samer
tier ikke lenger” by John Gustavsen.
I contacted one of the workers at Karasjok Produkter where the mentioned book cover had been printed about its origin, and he categorically stated, “This is not Synnøve Persen’s design!”
So I took it on to find out whose it was, and only very recently I have found out. However, I plan to write a longer article or perhaps a book about the Sámi flag topic, so this is enough for now.
In 1976 and 77 I had travelled
in several countries meeting Indigenous peoples wherever there was an opportunity of it. I visited Khonoma and Kohima in the homeland of the Naga people of South East Asia, occupied by India and Burma. When I came back I went directly to the World Conference
of Indigenous Peoples at Girun/Kiruna, and spoke up for the situation that I had just come from, and the plight of the Naga people, who had asked me for help to make their cause known internationally. I also used the opportunity again to urge Sámi Artists
to join our plans for a Sámi Art Collective, that now more or less was decided on to be at Máze, where Trygve Lund Guttormsen was in charge of some buildings that we could hire for the purpose. This time another Sámi artist from Sweden
responded positively, Britta Marakatt of Soppero.