Towards the edge of the sky.
25 february – 14 mAy 2023
Katarina Pirak Sikku’s exhibition, Dollet Almmiravdii – Towards the Edge of the Sky, intertwines her long-term research on Swedish racial biology practices with stories in images and words about people, land, and landscapes in Sápmi. Grounded in colonial history, the experiences and perspectives of the Sámi people, and with the northern landscape as its own living subject, Pirak Sikku’s art provides both a unique and invaluable historical memory work and sharp depictions of resistance, restoration, and reclamation. Combined, the artworks create a rich mental landscape that encompasses complex, sometimes contradictory emotions like grief, pain, shame, insecurity, anger, courage, care, pride, dignity, and hope.
Dollet Almmiravdii – Towards the edge of the Sky is both the most extensive presentation of Katarina Pirak Sikku’s artistic work and the first major solo exhibition in her home region of Norrbotten. Additionally, the exhibition marks the first occasion to encounter such a generous compilation of works with the racial biology theme that has remained a common thread in Pirak Sikku’s art for almost two decades.
The exhibition’s title, Dollet Almmiravdii – Towards the edge of the sky, invites us to look up. It suggests a utopian horizon, glimpses an entirely different way of narrating about the world and its people, a world order where the silenced are given a voice, the marginalized rise, and the land and soil regain dignity. Sápmi, the Sámi’s land, plays a leading role in the exhibition; nature itself testifies, offers protection, and becomes a place of resistance in various works portraying episodes in Sámi history and present. Maps, watercolors, video works, photographs, and light sculptures are some of the forms through which the landscape is invoked in the exhibition. The artworks reveal the lived land, the living geography, the river as a lifeline and lifeworld, and the mountains, including visions of cultural and political community. Counter-images are created, often through actions or contrasts, with works on exploited nature, such as the Lule River fragmented by hydroelectric development, drowned settlements and homes, or threats in the form of, for instance, new mining establishment attempts like the prolonged Gállok conflict. The latter is depicted in Pictures from Gállok, a slideshow with photographs from the protests in the summer of 2013, where a white fabric sheet (reminiscent of the racial biologists’ white sheets, stretched to create the illusion of a neutral space) laid out on the road, on the ground, by Pirak Sikku, captures a happening in her characteristic gesture, creating a collective graphic work by capturing the movements of activists – and police. There is also a multitude of works from the series Almmiravda ivnnit, a multi-year ongoing project. Watercolors, ink drawings, and more do not prioritize the landscape as the eye perceives it but rather take impulses from all senses and translate them into an image. Horizons depict the horizon, reaching towards the edge of the sky in the gap between day and night, a horizon that is both a wall, a barrier, an opening, and a way forward.
Dollet Almmiravdii – Towards the edge of the Sky dedicates an entire floor to a powerful presentation of the works created through Pirak Sikku’s long commitment to Swedish state-led racial biology policies and extensive practices implemented during the first decades of the 20th century and deeply affecting the Sámi population.
It is a comprehensive and dense account, allowing visitors to follow Pirak Sikku’s artistic and existential struggle with the racial biology archive, the practices of racial biologists, her search for voices and witnesses, and her effort to trace heritage and consequences into the present day. The included works span from the initial pieces like Dollet, Dollet 1, and Dollet 2 (2006), where the artist stages herself as an object for the measuring instruments and cameras of racial biologists, to the concluding work Agálaččat bivttastuvvon sohkagotti ivnniiguin/Forever Dressed in the Colors of the Ancestors (2022). In this piece, the Rasbiologiska Institutet’s photo album containing photographs of Sámi individuals is provided with handmade fabric covers and other details intended to provide both protection, care, and restoration to those once subjected to the racial biology gaze.
Pirak Sikku’s art provides a unique illumination of the painful yet impactful chapter in Sámi and Swedish history that constitutes racial biology. The artworks open doors to experiences and insights that have not previously been made visible, offering glimpses and understandings that surpass silence, ignorance, or unwillingness to know or understand. However, Pirak Sikku also emphasizes that her artistic energy could just as easily have been directed towards the nomadic schools, forced relocations, or forced Christianization. For her, racial biology is just a part of a broader history concerning the ongoing struggle against the consequences of colonization: the struggle for natural resources, grazing lands, fishing waters, and settlements; the struggle for rights, recognition, equality, democracy, and, as she emphasizes, mental independence.
So appears in ‘Dollet Almmiravdii – Towards the edge of the sky’ a land and a world where Sámi people are the subjects of the narrative. Katarina Pirak Sikku’s own voice and way of telling the story through her art are influential; it is her perspective, or as she has stated: ‘It is an inside perspective that engages me – a way to reclaim my voice, memory, feeling, shape my narrative, and reclaim my history.’
about the artist
Katarina Pirak Sikku was born in Jåhkåmåhkke/Jokkmokk, where she lives and works. Pirak Sikku holds a master’s degree from Umeå University – Academy of Fine Arts. She has participated in numerous exhibitions in Sweden and abroad. Her artwork ‘Gállok/Kallak’ was acquired by the Moderna Museet in 2020, marking the first piece by a Sámi artist to enter the museum’s collection. Pirak Sikku recently published her book ‘Árbbehárpo/Arvstrådarna,’ a narrative about race biology, assimilation, and the forced displacement of Sámi people, all of which are part of her family’s history.
For more information: katarinapiraksikku.com