Sunday 10 April 2022

Britta Marakatt-Labba at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

Felled Forest - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Felled Forest (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Recently I took a trip to Birmingham to see an exhibition called Under the Vast Sky by Britta Marakatt-Labba at the Ikon Gallery. Britta Marakatt-Labba is a Sámi artist from Sweden.  The Sámi people are an indigenous population of northern Scandinavia and northwest Russia, an area called Sápmi in their own language and which has, in the past, been referred to in English as Lapland.

Felled Forest - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Felled Forest (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Traditionally, the Sámi have pursued a variety of livelihoods including coastal fishing, fur trapping, sheep herding and their best-known means of livelihood - semi-nomadic reindeer herding. Marakatt-Labba's work features the history, culture and cosmology of the Sámi, illustrating community and everyday life and topics including terrorism and climate emergency.

Mineral Extraction - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Embroidery is Marakatt-Labba's main craft but she also uses collage, sculpture and installation, all of which are evident in the exhibition. Alot of her work on show is panoramic in view and you need to get up close to see the fabulous detail of her stitched work.

History (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

There are a number of watercolour paintings (History - see above) that form the preparatory design for a 24m long work that hangs in the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso which details Sámi culture, language, history and cosmology.

A political piece called The Crows (Garjjat) deals with the historic moment when a group of activists staged a peaceful protest against the expansion of a hydro electric power plant in Alta in northern Norway.  Marakatt-Labba took part in the protest herself and was imprisoned.  Using the crow, which is a symbol of authority to the Sámi, she shows them changing into policemen who charge at the activists.  These protests paved the way for politcal reforms which led to the establishment of a Sámi parliament.

The Crows - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The Crows (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The Crows (the detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The installation piece, Events in Time, repurposes large flour sacks stamped with the image of the German eagle and swastika, a remnant of German occupation of Norway in World War 2, hung in a circle reminiscent of a traditional abode. These may have been acquired through barter between the Sámi and soldiers and belonged to Marakatt-Labba's aunt.  One of the sacks has an embroidery referencing the terrorist attack of Uttoya by right wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, who is depicted as a double headed bird of prey, surrounded by guns with bullets spraying out. 

Events in time - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Events in time (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

Events in time (detail of reverse) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

There are also some Sámi godesses wearing the horned hat or ládjogahpir  (once prohibited under colonial rule).  When depicted in red it symbolises resistance and protection as here.  It appears in much of Marakatt-Labba's work.  When shown in blue it symbolises sorrow and mourning for the wounded earth as well as grieving and loss of a way of life and the knowledge tied up with that.

Events in time (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

There are also some sculptures featuring the heads of the Sámi godesses...

Granite Sculpture - Britta Marakatt-Labba

The fish is sacred in Sámi culture and acts as a mediator between the world of the living and the netherworld. This collage of dried fish skin has been embroidered on.

I have caught them all (detail) - Britta Marakatt-Labba

While I was there I was able to take part in a workshop which is part of a series run by textile artist Maria Wigley and uses Marakatt-Labba's work as inspiration.  We began the process of making some stitched books.  It was a really enjoyable session. Maria herself is inspired by text and mark making and is a member of the Prism textile group. You can catch the current Prism exhibition,UNTOLD, including Maria's work, at The Art Pavilion, Mile End Park, Clinton Road, E3 4QY until 18th April 2022.

Britta Marakatt-Labba's exhibition is on at the Ikon Gallery until 29 May 2022.  Definitely a must see exhibition!

The Ikon Gallery has a cafe attached - the Yorks Cafe.  It also has a small shop and some lockers to leave your things in while you look round.  Well worth a trip!

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