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Other research product . 2020

Decentralising narratives in Marja Helander's short film "Birds in the Earth"

Becher, Tanja;
Open Access
Published: 01 Jan 2020
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Country: Finland
This thesis proposes polyphonic interpretations of the short film Birds in the Earth (Eatnanvuloš Lottit, 2018) by Sámi artist Marja Helander. The thesis investigates and develops a method to decentralise the research of Sámi art conducted by non-Sámi art historian’s perspective. The artwork addresses discourses about the Sámi history, culture and current matters. This raises the question of which kind of interpretation a non-Sámi art historian can form employing traditional art historical methods such as researching literature. The thesis examines how including perspectives of Sámi interviewees influences the comprehension and therefore decentralises interpretations of Birds in the Earth. The base of this thesis lays in the tradition of art historical analysis and interpretation. Additions include writings on decolonisation and Indigenous art by Kerstin Knopf, the term of polyphonic history by Peter Burke and inter/view as exchange of gazes following Alessandro Portelli. In order to formulate decentralised interpretations, three open-ended interviews with Sámi spectators are conducted about their experience and understanding of the short film. Thoughts and stories articulated by the interviewees are woven into the interpretation which proceeds by the categories of choreography, costumes, props and scenography. With the short film as point of departure, Sámi discourses are discussed such as landownership, tourism and appropriation, togetherness with nature and Sámi identity. Input from the interviews is combined with research insights from literature, seminars and documentaries. Both the interviews and the art historical research are presented alongside each other without competing or excluding each other. Adding Sámi interviewees’ perspectives decreases the distance between a non-Sámi art historian’s interpretation and the Sámi artwork which would have formed through merely employing research from literature, seminars and documentaries. The interpretation is enriched and comes alive by the interviewees’ elaborated experiences. The decentralised and therefore decentralising narratives come closer to the substance of the artwork as the art historian is formulating while self-reflecting. This implicitly demands the acknowledgement of historical and cultural references of art history itself and a reflected positioning of the non-Sámi art historian’s role in relation to Sámi discourses alongside researching and writing. Developing the methodology of non-Sámi art historians writing about Sámi art proofs necessary and purposive due to the growing importance of and interest in Indigenous art.

Sámi art, Marja Helander, Indigenous art, art history, contemporary art, Indigenous filmmaking, decolonisation, taidehistoria, Art History, konsthistoria, saamelaistaide, taidehistoria, nykytaide, dekolonisaatio, Marja Helander

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