Opening reception and artist talk on Wednesday, 30th January from 6 to 8 pm
Kohta is very proud to announce the first solo exhibition in Finland by Britta Marakatt-Labba, born in 1951 in Idivuoma, in the part of Sápmi that is under Swedish jurisdiction. She may, in fact, be Sweden’s most sought-after artist right now.
During the autumn she has, among other things, participated in well-publicised group exhibitions at Bonniers Konsthall and Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and her retrospective at Lunds konsthall, ‘History in Stitches’, was both critically acclaimed and extraordinarily well visited. A compacted version of this exhibition, with works made between 1968 and 2019, will now be shown at Kohta, and later this spring at Västerbottens Museum in Umeå, Sweden.
Viewers at documenta 14 were duly impressed and touched by Marakatt-Labba’s captivating visual and narrative skills. In Athens she showed smaller textile images, a couple of which – Mátki (The Journey, 1985) and Oaiveskálžžut (The Skulls, 2009) – will also be on display at Kohta. In Kassel her 24-metre-long Historjá (History) dominated the documenta-Halle: a magnificent frieze reminding us that this particular history – that of her own people – has been kept deliberately invisible.
At Kohta, pencil sketches for the figures in Historjá will be exhibited, alongside other significant works demonstrating why it makes sense to call Marakatt-Labba a contemporary history painter – although her images are usually embroidered, not painted, and although they are based on oral tradition rather than on recorded knowledge.
Garjját (The Crows, 1981) and Johtin (The Move, 2016) are good examples of this. The former – here shown as a pencil sketch and a lithograph – visualises the protest movement against the damming of the Alta river in Finnmark in the early 1980s, at a time when Sami artists were also getting organised. The latter maps how extensive mining now forces the move of the entire city centre of Kiruna (Gieron in Northern Sami, Kiiruna in Meänkieli), which was already emblematic of colonial resource extraction in Sápmi. If we add works such as Vuovde suddje eallima (The Forest Protects Life, 1987–88) or Máilmmiviidosaš liegganeapmi (Global Warming, 2009), as we do in the exhibition, we see the contours of an art practice where social thought and ecological activism support innovative visual solutions and vice versa.
In recent years, Marakatt-Labba has started to incorporate her images into three-dimensional installations, a form of articulation that heightens their narrative and suggestive powers. Visitors to Kohta will encounter Uksa (The Door, 2012), for which she has arranged elements of the lavvu, the traditional Sami mobile home – two doors and a hearth whose stones have been engraved with significant place-names – and two of her early photographs: of a woman in transition, passing through the same kind of textile door reinforced with wooden slats.
You will have noticed that we make a point of providing all the work titles in Northern Sami, Marakatt-Labba’s native language. This is our small contribution to what is sometimes called ‘language ecology’. Languages that lead a precarious existence or are even at the risk of extinction (which unfortunately is the case with Southern Sami) should be made as visible as possible within the various domains of ‘majority culture’.
Marakatt-Labba’s themes and her modes of vision connect with Sami reality and culture, but so do her chosen textile techniques: embroidery and appliqué. Her work often converges with what in Northern Sami is called duodji (applied art, design). Her embroidered visual stories are, in other words, political in different ways and dimensions. They challenge and expand the notion of art. They resurrect nearly erased memories and critique contemporary life. They foresee and warn against what might happen in her native land – not least now, when the average annual temperature threatens to rise by several degrees.
We warmly thank Britta Marakatt-Labba for her engaged collaboration, and all the lenders. Apart from the artist herself, the following institutions and individuals have kindly lent their works to the exhibition in Helsinki: Lindbergs Konst & Ramar, Luleå, and private collectors among their customers; the Municipality of Kiruna; the Municipality of Umeå; Museum Anna Nordlander, Skellefteå; the National Association Folkets hus och parker, Stockholm; Region Norrbotten, Luleå; RiddoDuottarMuseat, Karasjok; the Sami School Board, Kiruna; Umeå University; Egil Utsi, Karasjok.
The exhibition is organised by Kohta in collaboration with Lunds konsthall and Västerbottens Museum.
Installation views from the exhibition Britta Marakatt-Labba: History in Stitches by Jussi Tiainen.