Sápmi and Art

Sápmi is the Sami population's traditional settlement area, which is in the northernmost part of Europe. Sápmi is divided into four, as a result of state establishment of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. In these countries, the Sami are the indigenous population, and are an ethnic, linguistic and cultural minority. On the Norwegian side of Sápmi, the Sami language is spoken from West Finnmark to Elgå in Hedmark.

Sapmi kart Daiddadallu

Illustration: Piera Heaika Muotka


Historic sources show that the Sami have lived for a long time in the Nordic region and the Kola peninsula. It is estimated that there are approx. 60-70,000 Sami today, 40,000 in Norway, 20,000 in Sweden, 7,500 in Finland and 2,000 in Russia. There is a great uncertainty concerning these numbers, partly because of the severe colonization policy from the states, which has meant that Sami have over several generations denied their Sami background. This was to prevent their descendants from racism and discrimination.

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Because of this, many Sami today neither speak Sami nor know about Sami society and culture, but still has the right to register for the Sámi Parliament's electorate. This creates challenges both at the human level, for those who are affected by this, and at the social and political level, especially in the Sami communities where they strive to protect and preserve the culture and traditions. Unfortunately, the history of systematic colonization has not been corrected with the same systematic improvement measures.

Dáidda - Sami art

Visual art in the Western sense has not had its own word in Sami, therefore the word dáidda (art) was established in Northern Sami language. The word Dáidda was created around the 1970s when Sami who had been educated in Western art schools wanted to break away from the duodji practice. Before the establishment of the word dáidda, the word duodji covered everything related to arts and crafts. The term Duodji has a broad meaning and is briefly described; everything you do with your hands is duodji. Duodji is primarily understood as craftsmanship.

All are artists in our cultural tradition. Art is not separated from life. Traditionally, they has had to make almost everything that was needed from day to day, they have to sing, tell stories, make things. Life is an art.

↳ Áillohaš, Nils Aslak Valkeapää

Sami way of life, tasks and creative methods have always gone hand in hand, and must be seen and understood as a whole. Creativity, duodji and dáidda have not been separated from each other, but have been part of daily life and culture.

Duodji can be considered as art and art can be considered as duodji depending on which angle you are observing from and in which context.

↳ Gunvor Guttorm, 2010.

According to Harald Gaski indigenous arts in many ways stands out from the mainstream with its own, frequently cyclic aesthetic, in which people, places, events, myths and dreams cohere and form associations that become expressed in sound, colour, and written or spoken word. That presuppose an interpreter open to alternative ways of seeing and understanding the world. There is more than rhetoric behind the argument that the holistic values of Indigenous societies open up a multimedia artistic perspective, where a closeness between human beings and nature takes on a different dimension from that found in art based on and cultivating a sense of distance between artist and object. (Gaski 2022).


Guttorm, Gunvor. 2010. Embroidered stories: Britta Marakatt-Labba = Broderade berättelser = Sággon muitalusat. Koncentrat. Kiruna.

Gaski, Harald. 2022.Nils Aslak Valkeapää/Áillohaš. Henie Onstad Art Centre ja Art Museum of Northern Norway.