In fresh cultural repatriation news, here’s a ‘Homecoming’ of art to the Sami people of Finland

Home » In fresh cultural repatriation news, here’s a ‘Homecoming’ of art to the Sami people of Finland
The National Museum of Finland | Wikimedia

The National Museum of Finland has returned thousands of artifacts to the Sámi Homeland in Lapland over the last year, and this ongoing exhibit celebrates the fact

A piece by Outi Pieski, 47 Most Wanted Foremothers, shown in the background, contains images of ládjogahpir headgear from the collections of various European museums. The piece is part of an art and research project by Pieski and researcher Eeva-Kristiina Nylander, Máttaráhku ládjogahpir – Foremother´s Hat of Pride. Image: Omar El Mrabt, the Finnish Heritage Agency | Via Helsinki Times and Forbes

The trend of repatriation and restoration of cultural property to indigenous communities/nations from erstwhile colonial powers / other has been catching on for some decades now, and may be construed to have been finally accelerated in the last few years, pandemic or no pandemic.

Not just Nazi-looted art finding its way home anymore, but also the Benin Bronzes going back to Nigeria, various looted cave statues and other items making the journey to India, and lots more has been witnessed after the turn of the millennium.

In a short series, Abir Pothi had also chronicled India’s missing art since colonial times, which you can read about here, here and here.

In a similar way, over the whole of 2021, the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki was slated to return 2,200 artifacts to the Indigenous Sámi people as part of an agreement with the Sámi Museum and Nature Centre Siida, located in Lapland, the country’s northernmost region.

That promise has been honoured. The National Museum of Finland, the Sámi Museum Siida and representatives of the Sámi community have in collaboration created an exhibition at the National Museum titled Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming, which is open until February 27, 2022.

A Skolt Sámi headdress showcased at the National Museum’s exhibition. It is one of the objects collected in 1912 by T. I. Itkonen from Petsamo. It was donated to Itkonen by Kiureli Moshnikoff. Photo: The Finnish Heritage Agency | Via Kansallismuseo.fi

The contents of the exhibition includes about 140 items from the Sámi collection, archived materials, photos, and works by Sámi artists. The Sámi collection of the National Museum has been compiled over 170 years, from 1830 to 1998.

The Sámi homeland of Finland is the northernmost part of the Lappi (Lapland) administrative region in Finland, home of approximately half of Finland’s Sámi population. The Sámi people are a Finno-Ugric-speaking people inhabiting the region of Sápmi which today encompasses large northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and of the Murmansk Oblast, Russia, most of the Kola Peninsula in particular. The Sámi have historically been known in English as Lapps or Laplanders, but these terms are regarded as offensive by some Sámi people, who prefer the area’s name in their own languages, e.g. Northern Sami Sápmi.

Traditionally, the Sámi’s best-known means of livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding. Currently about 10% of the Sámi are connected to reindeer herding, which provides them with meat, fur, and transportation. 2,800 Sámi people are actively involved in reindeer herding on a full-time basis in Norway. For traditional, environmental, cultural, and political reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved for only Sámi people in some regions of the Nordic countries.

The flag of the Sami people | Wikimedia

In Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming, works by Sámi crafters and pieces by contemporary artists interact with 140 artefacts selected for the exhibition. In addition to that, the exhibition includes numerous texts and stories by Sámi storytellers, stories told by artefacts and archive material, such as photographs and yoik singing. The exhibition texts are in 6 languages from which 3 of them are Sámi languages spoken in Finland.

‘We hope that the cooperation between the National Museum of Finland and the Sámi Museum Siida can show the way ahead around the world. Cultural heritage has a key role in dealing with a problematic history. At its best, repatriation is a process that allows us to take responsibility of our past mistakes in a constructive way,’ says Director General Elina Anttila from the National Museum of Finland, according to a report by The Helsinki Times.

A wooden ahkio sled used by Oula Aikio from Vuotso was made in Teno, Utsjoki, in 1940–1949 and is part of the exhibition. It was in use from around 1945 to 1965. Photo: Omar El Mrabt, Finnish Heritage Agency | Via Kansallismuseo.fi