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Britta Marakatt-Labba

Moving the needle

The inhospitable landscapes of northern Scandinavia may not seem the ideal place to nurture artistic talent, but this is exactly where Britta Marakatt-Labba has rooted hers. Born into a reindeer herding family in Sápmi – one of the northernmost regions of the world – she started her career in 1979 in Gothenburg, studying Design and Crafts. Her style has since broadened, together with her international reputation, through the duodji practices of Sámi crafts and art, which she learnt during her upbringing.

Best known for her embroidery works, for which she normally threads fine wool, silk and linen onto white fabric grounds, Marakatt-Labba has also produced outstanding prints; book illustrations; scenic designs, and costumes for film and theatre.

Moving the Needle combines over four decades of the artist’s work, with a clear focus on her depiction of environmental issues and the climate crisis as seen from an indigenous perspective. Her involvement with these causes dates back to the late 1970s, when, with other like-minded artists, she helped found the politically-radical artist group, Mázejoavku (the Masi group).

Flying Shamans, 2011-2021 © Britta Marakatt-Labba/BONO. Photo: Hans-Olof Utsi

Marakatt-Labba was also active in the campaign of resistance to the development of the Alta-Kautokeino watercourse. Garjját/The Crows (1981) – on display at the exhibition – was made during this time of protest. Her tapestry shows the police as crows charging at people, and has become a symbol of the Norwegian state’s historical mistreatment of Sámi people. The story continues into Girdi noaiddit/Flying Shamans (1986) in which the shamans take revenge, by picking up and dropping the policemen – likened to rats – into the icy waters.

With political activism still central to her art even today, Marakatt-Labba is considered an inspiration for a new generation of young people fighting for nature conservation in general, and Sámi rights in particular. For Moving the Needle, she  created a commissioned piece that warns about the costs of hunting for minerals and industrialising nature in her mining hometown, Kiruna.

Left, Cracked, 2009. Right, Drumbeat, 2012. Both © Britta Marakatt-Labba/BONO. Photo: Hans-Olof Utsi.

Beyond the visual feast of her tapestries, Marakatt-Labba sparks conversations about the evolving identity of the Sámi people and the importance of cultural preservation in a rapidly-changing world. Moving the Needle is like a storybook, revealing chapter after chapter of the artist’s personal and collective history.

Through iterative installations, the exhibition immerses visitors in Sámi culture; at the heart of which is the 24-metre-long, embroidered Historjá (2004-2007). In its stitches are woven scenes from Sámi history, mythology and everyday life. Also on show are a selection of the artist’s first sketches – which have never been exhibited before – plus other forms of Marakatt-Labba’s work, including graphic prints and sculptures that show the wide range of her practice.

Britta Marakatt-Labba, Moving the needle

Nasjonalmuseet, Pb. 7014 St. Olavs plass, N-0130 Oslo

15th March – 25th August 2024

More information and tickets, HERE.

Words: Lavinia Dickson-Robinson

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