The idea of "Art" was not originally found among the Sami people,
but one idea which have been borrowed from the European cultures in the
last century. Even though the Sami´s used to decorate tools and objects
that was used in daily life. A painting or a sculpture is a different thing
altogether since that is an object you display just for the beauty or in
some cases the value of it.
This doesn´t mean that Sami art is nothing but an imitation of the European, quite to the contrary, some of it has developed from the patterns and ideas in the Sami culture wheras some artists have used the more common methods such as charcoal on paper or oilcolour on canvas.
During the 20´th century a number of skilled Sami artists have appeared, some of which have developed the traditional handicraft and others who use other more modern methods of artistic expression. John Savio and Nils Nilsson Skum was among the earliest Sami´s which got a reputation for their outstanding drawings and prints. Among the contemporary artists one could mention Lars Pirak, a Swedish Sami living in Jokkmokk who have become famous both as a handicrafter as well as an artist to mention but one among many.
Image of wolves hunting
reindeers by John Savio.
|Drawing by Nils Nilsson Skum,
a reindeerherding Sami with
an artistic inclination who made
drawings of his life and daily work.
The perspective in his drawings are
almost exclusively distant, small
figures of people and reindeers
surrounded by a majestic nature.
Or to put it differently, people and
reindeers are seen together as
part of the nature around them,
-a truly indigenous perspective.
It feels almost superfluous to mention
that Mr Skums drawings are highly
valued by natives and non
A number of non native artists have depicted the
Sami´s for a long time and in a variety of ways. The oldest are found in the accounts of the explorers
who visited northern Scandinavia. Some of the illustrations bears the mark of the
culture in which they was made and have little relevance to the Sami lifestyle1
and what things really looked like, whereas others are remarkably correct even in details.
Artists like John Bauer2 and Johan Tirén3 are among those who´s works
are correct even in the smallest detail due to the fact that they had first hand information, the latter artist was in
fact openly pro-Sami both in his paintings and in his writings, highly unusual in a time when the Sami´s
was considered to be an uncivilized people and of an inferior race.
|Fig 1: Illustration found in Olaus Magnus.
Note the "tents" at upper left corner
which resembles a model used in continental
Europe, also the style of the spear, bow,
arrows and the "skis".
The illustrator obviously have not seen
any of these objects firsthand.
|Fig 2: Illustration made by John Bauer.
The exact style makes the boys easily
recognizable as Sami´s from Norrbotten
|Fig 3: The painting "After the snowstorm" by
Johan Tirén (1885). Many persons of his
paintings are often immediately recognizable
as Åarjel or Southsami´s. As he often used
Sami´s as models, though the woman on this
painting in fact is the artists mother.
|Fig 4: Cover of Johannes Schefferus.
"The History of Lapland" which was
published in 1673.
This illustrator obviously have had
firsthand information or detailed notes.
|Fig 5: "A Lapp of the Lule älv."
Illustration from "Two vagabonds in Sweden & Lapland" by Jan & Cora Gordon.
The image is quite correct in details, what one finds irritating from a Sami viewpoint is the context in which the image was used: Where the nomadic Sami´s was compared to and seen as equals to vagabonds = bums and hobos.
Even though the style of this depiction from an old book is influenced by the artistic style of its time. It is interesting in several ways with details that hints on what the actual meeting was like.
The most obvious part of the image is the boat the explorers are traveling in, with a very high stem and stern, a style best known by the Vikingships but also used by Finns.
From a Sami viewpoint, the people who are to be "discovered" are even more interesting. Especially the person of the native group who doesn´t remain passive to the arrival of the newcomers, but already is standing and seems to be ready to walk forward and take an active role in the arrival of the "explorers" is a woman. The men on the other hand seems about to be ready to flee, especially the second from the left who in fact arn´t looking at the visitors but into the forest behind him. In addition the womans left hand seems in fact be pushing one of the men down, perhaps to keep him in a sitting position. Other details might not be obvious on this image since we had to shrink it´s size for the use on this webpage, but viewing the original print leaves no doubt: That the woman has the most elaborate clothing with a fancy headwear and many tools and perhaps ornaments hanging from her belt, suggesting that she was a person of high status. Stories of such highranking women with an almost chieflike status are found in many areas of the Sami nation. It is quite possible that we see one of them depicted in this image.
Navigationbuttons for non frame browsers.