Leah Thomason Bromberg

Looking for a brighter day

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Lakwena Maciver’s studio

I walked past endless stalls of vegetables, a black and white dress I really liked, patterned fabrics of every sorts. It was crowded enough to make it hard to walk. I spent £1 on raspberries as I made my way to Lakwena Maciver’s studio toward the end of a Dalston street market in east London. Inside her studio it was still filled with bright colors and voices, but they were on the five paintings she was working on for her exhibition, The future’s gold.

Lakwena herself is quiet with a lot to say. Her work comes from political promises. They are cutting in what is promised, yet sincerely optimistic. The work points to how the state of politics are far from the way they need to be.

lakwenainstudio.jpg

My visit to her studio was a few weeks after another election in the United Kingdom which destabilized Theresa May and the Tories’ grasp of power, and a year after the Brexit vote--a process looming over us still. There is always the sympathetic look of knowing when the conversation turns to American politics.


LTB: What is your normal, ‘working size’ for your paintings?
LM: There’s something political in filling up space.

And there is political weight in filling space. Lakwena shares that she usually works really large, filling as much space as she can. Lakwena’s voice is undeniable in the work as well as in the space it takes over. The vibrancy of her paintings fill the space. The largest of her five pieces seemed about 4’ x 4’, yet feels much larger than that given her palette. Lakwena has also completed several murals in various locations internationally that also envelop the entire space. For The future’s gold she has painted the walls as well as installed her work.

Lakwena’s work seems to need to spread beyond the frame. Even in her studio, it feels like they have oozed onto the floor--it is covered in black and white checked utility rubber mats.

Pictorial space has always felt political to me: when else does someone have complete autonomy over an entire world? As a woman who was taught it was “good manners” to be quiet and invisible, I can’t help but appreciate the sass in taking up space. Voices need to go beyond their allotted space.


LTB: What’s the relationship between the image and the text?
LM: I think a lot about mirrors. There is a quote: “For now we see through a glass darkly,” which ends with the idea that “now we see clearly.”

A collection of fabrics and books fill up Lakwena’s studio. A small black and white necklace finds itself in the edge of one of her paintings. Her desk drawers are painted in a day-glo gradient. The patterns feel like they just naturally emerge from Lakwena, standing next to me in her lime green dress.

The paintings draw on her experiences as a sign painter, and she subverts the connection to commercial advertising with her politics. There is the analogy of commercialism with politics: selling a message that the future will be better if you buy this or vote for him. There’s also the analogy of a mirror--how advertising reflects desire. The way the patterns frame the text echo a sort of mirror in the work. It’s a biblical reference to our lack of vision into the future as Lakwena quoted: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12). 

The gold in the paintings also reflect poorly, a vinyl imitation of something far more precious. Lakwena opted for vinyl instead of gold leaf--it’s more commercial, less referential to history painting, and non-elitist. For a moment I’m lost in imagining all the Renaissance cathedral paintings and the apocalyptic visions in the book of Revelation. In that book there are promises of a “new Jerusalem” paved with gold, but the gold is so pure it is perfectly clear. Again: what we see here feels inferior. How clear is our vision of reality?


LTB: Where do you find the phrases that go into the work?
LM: For this painting, there’s a song by Gil Scott-Heron that says, ‘Black people / will be in the street looking for a brighter day. / The revolution will not be televised.’

The sort of discontent with the status quo and push for the newly imagined is a huge part of Afrofuturism. Lakwena herself likes to blend Afrofuturism with a messianic philosophy: waiting for, longing for, imagining a promised and better future. 

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised goes on:

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers;
The revolution will be live.
— Gil Scott-Heron

The future and the revolution take on this mythical quality.  When are people more empowered than when they are creating their own myths? Myths are about making the ordinary, extraordinary--beyond and outside of the quotidian--as well as unrecognized by capitalist interests. Advertising has nothing to do with changing power dynamics.

Lakwena's paintings as contemporary work feel alive, living in both the present and the future. The text could easily become sarcastic or glib; but I found myself being spurred on to imagine what a golden future would maybe be.

She pulls out books about Oakland’s Sun Ra, a musician and artist whose bright aesthetic echoes in her studio. He took on his persona as a prophet and never deviated from it, becoming a pioneer of Afrofuturism itself. The small artworks inside the book are themselves mythic and feature characters wielding unworldly powers. This too is an imagined world grappling with extraordinary powers. There’s a similar sincerity in Lakwena’s work: optimistic but not removed from the realities of present day. 

That is after all what we are constantly promised: for the future to be great again, strong and stable. And the best slogans promise what we want. I remember “hope” being so important after the Bush years. For whom are these promises? Her son napped quietly next to her work, a reminder that politics and power dynamics aren’t at all theoretical. 

The present isn’t gold; let’s hope that the future could be.



Lakwena Maciver lives and works in London. Her exhibition, The future's gold, is at KK Outlet, London N1 from 7 July to 31 August 2017. You can also see more of her work at lakwena.com or follow her on Instagram @lakwena.

Warm chairs

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Lucia Dill's Berkeley studio

Lucia Dill, Beyond what I knew, 18 by 24 in, 2015. Image via www.luciadill.com.

Lucia Dill, Beyond what I knew, 18 by 24 in, 2015. Image via www.luciadill.com.

Folding chairs don’t exactly sound inspiring or really deserving of any sort of dialogue. Nevertheless, they are everywhere and most specifically at every large gathering -- the miscellany of the chairs in church basements, the “fancier” white, plastic version at weddings, office meetings, gatherings in people’s homes when there aren’t enough regular chairs, endless critiques on cement floors within art school’s repeated painted white walls. I can hear the ding of two hitting each other as I try to carry as many chairs as possible in some small, personal celebration of my own bravada while my mom supervises the clean up in a church basement where men are supposed to move the heavy things. Yes. I know these chairs well.

A single folding chair leans against the wall of Lucia Dill’s Berkeley studio. Is this one of her models? She confesses that she doesn’t need the chair anymore to make her paintings. Lucia Dill has been making this work since her final year in California College of the Arts’ BFA program. I met her and her chairs when our work was paired together in an exhibition, and it was like finding a painting-sister.

Lucia Dill in her studio at Makers Workspace in Berkeley, CA

Lucia Dill in her studio at Makers Workspace in Berkeley, CA

These are the uncomfortable seats for gatherings like in her paintings that she considers family portraits. There’s a necessity to them, like the necessity of relationships in our lives. Lucia is a self-proclaimed introvert, and I imagine that experiencing so much presence in these chairs feels slightly less overwhelming. Initially the work seems to indicate an absence; but I find them to be more of a continuation of that presence. Someone was here, now they are gone; the chair remains. Then the presence can remain even beyond the chair as a painting. I’ve found the process of painting to be akin to spending time with a person--it’s spending time in a space that may be gone. It makes a singular moment continue.

The chairs have a certain quiet to them. It’s a relief to someone like me who’s an introvert -- that it’s a presence without the requirements of actual interaction. It’s a reminder that someone is there.

Lucia also includes tags with her paintings and has created several artists books. The repetition of the chairs, the long lines, and continuation in the books seems to point toward language. These pieces bridge painting with books: books hang on the walls as paintings, painting and printmaking find its way into books. One project, On the Line, is a series of long, power lines which operate almost as music staffs. The black and white images relate the power lines closely to the text Lucia wrote. In these books, the hand relates so closely to language: as writing, as art making, as holding a book.

On The Line, one of Lucia's book projects

On The Line, one of Lucia's book projects

The forms construct a sort of code. I’m left wondering what happened in the space. The chairs moved to create vestiges of interactions, and Lucia’s repetitive use of imagery highlights all their subtleties.

The code also finds itself in her palette. Lucia chooses the colors based on her own personal associations--soft navy, Cal colors for her grandmother, cool teal patterns that echo the plants she sees during the day. There’s a strong connection between her work and the everyday. Bits of papers end up in her work. Lucia tries to live sustainably, and sometimes even mixes colors on her panels within her painting. Some of her work then makes its way onto bags and coffee cup holders.

Lucia doesn't need a chair "model" anymore.

Lucia doesn't need a chair "model" anymore.

Right now she is working through her body of work for an exhibition featuring daily created work for fifty days. The repetition of the chairs makes them almost characters. Lucia likes to think of their positions as body language. As part of her practice, an intense investigation like this can make you feel like you’re trapped but also provide a sandbox for experimentation. Her previously established language allows for new experimentation. Their dark forms walk across her paintings almost like letters. Lucia has been sewing and collaging to add a new area to her work, fusing the soft, lyrical line of embroidery thread with the hard edges of cold metal chairs.

These functional chairs, endlessly repositioned in circles and rows and aisles, absorb our warmth, and then slowly cool the longer our absence. Lucia’s facture and her consistent return to these chairs similarly linger.


See more of Lucia Dill's work at www.luciadill.com or via her Instagram.


Dreams of Aggressive Vitality

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Gabe Hill's Studio

It’s a sunny November afternoon, and I am meeting Gabrielle Hill in a bunker. 

Well, in a way—walking through California College of the Arts’ MFA studios in San Francisco can feel that way with its windy, concrete courtyards and industrial aesthetic. There is even a perpetual grey that seems to hover over the studios. After making my way through the fog, I am delighted to see Gabe’s studio, number 32, tucked into the corner of Hoopertown. The work in her studio is the beginnings of her own imagined bunker: one where her protagonist is holed away from the end of the world.

Gabe came to the Bay Area from Vancouver and is Metis and Cree. I met Gabe when we were both in Banff for In Kind: Negotiations exactly a year ago. I had just finished my own MFA at CCA the spring before, and she was in the process of applying to CCA herself. Seeing her studio made me thankful for a friend and fellow artist (the best sort of combination) who has experienced the same landscapes (or industrial MFA bunkers) as I have.

My own studio has always been a sort of bunker: a place to hide away and get lost in my mind. Gabe’s studio likewise was filled with piles and experiments and ideas. Nearing the end of her first semester, her work is beginning to coalesce after months of questions. Car tires, a quilt, papers with notes, and house paint surround pieces in their infancy. She works in a variety of media, but today it seems her work leans toward sculpture. 

LTB:  What's the project you're working on here?

A yellow piece of legal paper in Gabe’s studio shows her own emphasis given to Frantz Fanon’s words:

The first thing the colonial subject learns is to remain in place and not overstep [her] limits. Hence the dreams of the colonial subject are muscular dreams, dreams of action, dreams of aggressive vitality. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, and climbing. I dream I burst out laughing, I am leaping across a river and chased by a pack of cars that never catches up with me. During colonization the aboriginal subject frees [herself] night after night between nine in the evening and six in the morning.

— Wretched of the Earth, page 15

Gabe is in the midst of a larger installation piece titled Muscular Dreams from this excerpt. There are obviously still the questions of how the piece will turn out, but she is literally scraping away bit by bit at its creation as she carves, paints, and wires each component.

Gabe shares that she’s been thinking a lot about Jimmie Durham when he talks about “unknowable futures.” As an indigenous individual, he’s found that so much of his tradition has been lost, and is in many ways inaccessible. Without knowing the past, its projection into the future is equally unknowable, leaving a zone for questions and imagination. What could be more unknowable and questionable than this bunker amidst a sort of apocalypse?

In her dreams, Gabe is often saving the world, waking to find herself feeling accomplished and victorious. Here I wholeheartedly relate: in my dreams I fight for my voice declaring danger to be heard and then physically rescue my loved ones (to then wake, feeling exhausted and anxious). I love the agency that I access in these dreams—not only over myself but over the entire landscape. It seems to me that Gabe is creating that landscape with her installation. I found myself getting lost in the space and in the imagined world she described.

GabeHill_lightwiring

LTB: Could someone who is not indigenous make this work?
GH:
I think so! I think lots of people probably have these muscular dreams: colonized people and people just living under a system that feels immobilizing. This is just my own expression of this.

She really hopes to create a fantastical and immersive space. Books by Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler sit around in her studio. Science fiction has long been a space where the politics of their authors get worked out, yet another space for agency and experimentation.

LTB: How am I supposed to orient myself toward this work, or find my way into it?

As a painter, sculpture has always been sort of mystical, and with three-dimensions I often get overwhelmed; but then Gabe pulled out a Jessica Stockholder book. I literally gasped because it gave me a foothold into sculpture. Jessica Stockholder’s work is like a painting you can physically enter. Wires and tubes are like paint strokes against a background—and Gabe also sees them as bunkers.

Over the semester, Gabe has planned this extensive project. She has small goals for herself everyday. She's even decided on a palette. “My colors are usually all over the place,” she shares, and with this piece she is keeping to a palette of pink, blue, black, and white.

LTB: What is a non-negotiable for you in making work?
GH: Working with my hands.

In a time of digital everything, Gabe wants to keep that physical connection to her work. In one intervention, she braided the grass of an entire hillside, working slowly and methodically, chatting with the camera person who filmed part of her project. That sort of down-to-earth tone in her voice and in her work is apparent throughout her studio  and in this new project.

One area has tube lights painted an ultramarine on one side, while the other shines down on the tiny tobacco plants she is trying to grow in her studio. She started them in her apartment in sunnier Oakland, but they seem to be struggling in the studio despite her best efforts to research what they need. The pure light is strong, and I easily lose myself in it; and for once those orange electrical cords are beautifully accenting the lights they power. After learning to wire the lights herself, Gabe is building a light box for the tobacco, a plant with traditional and everyday uses.

In the back a warm-toned, wooden desk sits in front of a mauve wall. A can of paint and a roller are off to the side. Gabe is carving words and stars and figures into the wall and down onto the desk. The golden under layers of the plywood emerge, reminding me of the colors in my grandmother’s home. Eventually she will ink blue over the wall and pull linotype-esque prints from it. Eventually the blue will cover the carved stars as a subtle nod toward Ghost Dancers, whose dance also connected physicality with hopes for the future.

I left Gabe to carve away at her desk and her wall, chipping away to make physical her own imaginings.

Somewhere between Mulder and Scully

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Katie Dorame's studio

Dorame_studio_talking

Your headphones tell you it’s 1812. The sounds of mass at Mission San Juan Capistrano quietly rise and fall. Suddenly there’s a roar, screams; the bells toll violently.
 
This is Katie Dorame’s favorite part of the audio tour.
 
Maybe that’s because this is the only time the audio tour of the mission actually points toward any sort of trauma, and individuals cannot in any way be responsible for an earthquake. Or maybe it’s because the audio tour is really hokey. We laughed together just imagining it.
 
A studio visit with Katie is a breath of fresh air. She is a rare friend for me as we share an intersection of painting strategies, indigenous politics, a complicated relationship with religion, and an offbeat interest in monstrosities. Katie grew up in southern California and is a member of the Tongva (or Gabrieliño) Tribe of California. Her studio in Oakland is filled with paintings, drawings, a sculpture here and there, and newer installation work.

Katie poses a question in her work, “What if westward expansion went all the way into the ocean, into outer space?” Her question lands her in the rich territory of science fiction. In comics, books, and movies, indigenous people have these special connections to nature, to mythical spirituality, and to other equally strange aliens. (If that’s true, I am missing out.) Space travel always seems to be about manifest destiny anyway.
 
Her recent body of work, Alien Apostles, empathically puts that strangeness onto the Franciscan priests who colonized what is now California in the 1800’s, when the Tongva and other tribes California experienced multiple waves of invasion. (The Franciscan priests only enslaved and converted the indigenous people in the area instead of committing outright genocide, which is argument the Vatican is using to declare Junipero Serra a saint.) Many Tongva artifacts have been lost, and much of the history left was written by the padres themselves. A reality for Katie is that she must learn about her people through books, making history and research a painful and dark experience—one I can definitely relate to. Katie verbalizes the disconnection between well. Someone had asked her if the padres were just the bad guys then. She responded, “If they’re aliens, then they’re new and they don’t know the rules.” The alien padres remain monstrous, bloodied, and cruel, but they are the strange ones. Her work attempts to make sense of it all, to comprehend how these events took place. What’s Katie’s stance on these histories and religious institutions?
 
“Somewhere between Mulder and Scully.” She wants to believe, she wants to take part, she wants to inhabit that world; but there’s still so much skepticism.

Like with most science fiction, Katie has an attraction and a repulsion to history. You keep watching the carnage, but through your hands covering your face. Cinema has a big voice in how the public views history. Katie’s connection to film harkens back to her own childhood in southern California. The last painting she made during her MFA was titled Hollywood Indian. Fictions and histories infiltrate one another. In another body of work, Shifting Screens, Katie juxtaposed images of Tongva artifacts found by archeologist’s sifting the dirt with screens with images of non-indigenous actresses portraying indigenous characters, which pointed to shifting identities. The film stills are seductive, yet the artifact looms over them leaving you to wonder what is happening. Katie points out how Hollywood loves to strip imagery of its history. I have found myself watching movies filled with questionable takes on indigenous identity, being both horrified and fascinated. Her Shifting Screens paintings are perfectly lit, slick, super smooth, and gorgeous—just like Hollywood.
 
Katie’s Alien Apostles paintings take an agency that I love: she is making her own stories. She has always found the stories of Jesus to be violent and bloody, an aspect often disregarded in Renaissance paintings of a peaceful Jesus seemingly relaxed on the cross. Her paintings possess the same structure, but with an unsettling, ethereal nature. There always seems to be something lurking. Katie uses oil paint like watercolors, thinned and mostly as washes. Her paintings are simultaneously disconcerting and hilarious. They glow, but I like to tell myself that it’s actually because of these unearthly (radioactive?) alien padres.

Dorame_installation_doorframe

I asked, “Where do you see these paintings living?”
 
This is a question Katie has long been wondering. She’s also begun to create her own setting for her work. Her painting installation in her own studio draws on the Spanish and early colonial painting in the missions. Local indigenous people constructed and painted the missions, and their own designs snuck their way onto the walls despite the padres actively attempting to anglicize them. She feels a connection to these other indigenous painters through this physicality to create her work. The paintings on the wall feel defiant and secretly political to me. A book details what seems to be two deer facing one another, when in actuality one is a deer, and the other is a hunter disguised as a deer. Katie has begun creating her own versions of these paintings to remember these moments and create a space for her own work. The space also has a conversation with history.
 
There is something disconcerting in the question of where work needs to go. The ugly histories of displacement for indigenous people still echo in the lives of contemporary indigenous people. Katie’s solution to frame her own space is both challenging and a relief. Katie’s work looks back, an unpopular viewpoint in a San Francisco Bay area that is in love with forward progress but one also struggling with the neocolonial undertones of gentrification. Our conversation seems to take place in the past itself—we let the histories we talk about transport us to somewhere else, a strategy I find undeniable in her work. It’s as if the Spanish invasion of California, the Inquisition, Goya’s life, early Baroque painting, and 1950’s B-movies are all happening at this very second.
 
You can see it in her palette. I asked how she chose her colors. It seemed to be somewhere between academic painting and the items that she just likes to keep around. Books out on the table are filled with images of the missions’ interiors and their tawny stucco. Burnt sienna and coral echo throughout all of her work and in the artifacts, shells, and earth-toned fabric scraps in her studio. A piece of translucent vellum appropriately covers a painting from Shifting Screens. There’s an alien padre sculpture in a box that stood near the door of her recent exhibition in Ithaca, NY to beckon (or frighten away) viewers. His face is that glowing terre verte. Katie uses oils as a vehicle for color—she finds it the only way to achieve the richness and luminosity she needs.
 
I look back at the padre sculpture. He is so creepy. But Katie made him only 30 inches tall and sort of sad looking, especially as he lies powerlessly on his back with his scaly hands raised in the air.


You can see more of Katie Dorame’s work via her website, katiedorame.com. Images from her recent exhibition, Alien Apostles, in Ithaca, NY can be viewed on Handwerker Gallery’s Facebook page.

Dressing Sami

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Carola Grahn's Banff studio

Above: Vidderna ropa [Expanses(,) cry out] sound installation recording from open studios at the Banff Centre

Contributor’s note: “In Kind” Negotiations was a residency for indigenous artists that I attended at the Banff Centre. See all three studio visit conversations here.

I remember Carola introducing herself to the circle of new Banff residents. I was taking note of who would be part of our residency, “In Kind” Negotiations. Carola had flown in from Stockholm, Sweden, and (unlike me) seemed unfazed at the prospect of winter in Banff. I tried to imagine the climate of Sweden and compared it to Banff’s and wondered if all of Carola’s sweaters were as cool as the black one she wore that day. (Because in Sweden, you’d have to have cool sweaters, right?)

Carola kindly took time to talk to me about her work during our limited time at the Banff Centre. I especially appreciated her shared words, because she mentioned to me how tired she was from constantly translating her thoughts from Swedish to English for us. She and I sat around some coffee near the end of the residency.

Carola shared about being Sami. The Sami people are indigenous to the northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Before meeting Carola, I did not know very much about the Sami people; and it was a privilege to learn about their politics, traditions, and contemporary lives firsthand from Carola—instead of sorting through society’s prejudices and misrepresentations.

Carola kindly took time to talk to me about her work during our limited time at the Banff Centre. I especially appreciated her shared words, because she mentioned to me how tired she was from constantly translating her thoughts from Swedish to English for us. She and I sat around some coffee near the end of the residency.

Carola shared about being Sami. The Sami people are indigenous to the northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Before meeting Carola, I did not know very much about the Sami people; and it was a privilege to learn about their politics, traditions, and contemporary lives firsthand from Carola—instead of sorting through society’s prejudices and misrepresentations.

Snow installation at the Banff Centre

Snow installation at the Banff Centre

LTB: Your father is Sami, and your mother is not. Do you identify then as only Sami?

CG: I don’t like the idea of being “half.” I have decided that I am both, both Swedish and Sami.

There’s something partial or lacking in being “half.” It feels exclusionary and like a loss for me to tell people that I’m “half” Navajo—why do people question how “much” I am when I tell them I’m Navajo? Fully claiming an identity has been an important step for Carola personally and in her art practice, though she says she was late in taking back her Sami identity. Carola is extremely involved with her community and serves as the chair of the Sami association in Stockholm. Like her community, Carola is dealing with what it means to be a contemporary Sami person. She describes wearing Sami clothing with jeans—which was once somewhat controversial. While in Banff, she facilitated a time for the women of our residency to talk about how we describe our own identities. Carola’s work seems to demand questions about the hierarchies of power in these identities as both an indigenous individual and as a woman. The viewer is confronted with very direct questions or statements. I appreciate the abrupt nature of her work: I find myself mentally stammering, trying to find answers, and wondering through these questions for myself.

Installation of raku mountains and photographs at open studios in Banff

Installation of raku mountains and photographs at open studios in Banff

Photograph of the mountains at open studios in Banff

Photograph of the mountains at open studios in Banff

Leah Thomason Bromberg: How did you find art?

Carola Grahn: It always felt like it was there. My art is like how I played when I was little: out in the woods or so. My friends and I would plan and create plays together.

Carola continues to work in a project-based manner like her childhood playtime, and her work is where she is mentally. I found myself also indulging in the landscape while in Banff, and Carola’s work has a sense of being a part of her surroundings and the psychology of the individual within it.

I asked her if the landscape in Banff felt differently than in Sweden, and Carola shared that mostly all mountains feel like home to her. During open studios, Carola had an installation of two photographs of the mountains in Banff accompanied by raku mountains that she made in the Banff Centre’s ceramics studio. I could sense her presence in the photographs and the raku pieces. The photographs captured a certain ephemerality that happens in the fog of memory and history. As for the raku pieces, I remember her offhandedly mentioning in the workshop that she had made mountains; but I found a certain freedom and definite quality in them. They have the same bravado as her text installations—planted in front of you, being what they are.

Vidderna Ropa [Expanses(,) cry out]  ,   outside of Bildmuseet in Umeå City. Image via carolagrahn.se

Vidderna Ropa [Expanses(,) cry out]outside of Bildmuseet in Umeå City. Image via carolagrahn.se

LTB: I feel like that’s something we’ve been talking about here in Banff: how these larger histories affect our own personal lives and communities.

CG: It’s been a place for safe conversations here.

Safe conversations are challenging to find. Carola shares a story about visiting her cousins’ reindeer herds. The Sami people are known for their nomadic herding of reindeer, a way of life still practiced. Carola had planned to drive north from Stockholm for the visit, and an acquaintance messaged her to ask if he could come along to photograph the reindeer. Immediately Carola felt anxiety that someone (whom she didn’t know very well) would want to invade a special area for her as a Sami person.

Carola and I shared feeling protective over these sorts of things, protecting the personal, and trying to choose carefully what becomes public. Carola’s work comes from a very personal place, and she has had to learn when to keep things for herself. It struck us both that with indigenous people, these larger histories of genocide, cultural oppression, and colonialism are constantly in conversation with personal histories. The Sami people and North American indigenous people have a similar history, where invaders stole the land and missionaries stole the children to attend residential schools. In talking about these histories, Carola emphasized that she does not feel that Swedish history is hers—rather that the Sami history is.

Kan man ärva smärta? (Can one inherit pain?) , October 2012, plastic film, Konstnärshuset. Image via carolagrahn.se

Kan man ärva smärta? (Can one inherit pain?), October 2012, plastic film, Konstnärshuset. Image via carolagrahn.se

Carola’s work wonders if the land keeps such pain and if the pain can be passed down to generations. If we don’t give voice to it, can the land itself cry out? Nature witnesses atrocities, and Carola finds comfort in the trees and wild. In Expanses(,) cry out, she gives nature a voice. Her installation at the Banff Centre uses the same recording. The Sami yoik subsumed my whole body as I stood in the center of the room. Outside of Bildmuseet in Umeå City, she was able to install it along with a pine tree from a march, and the viewer could sit with the tree and listen to the recording.

At the end of our coffee chat, Carola gave me a hug. We wrapped ourselves into our sweaters, scarves, and jackets to head outside. And in the shadow of Banff’s mountains, there was no good bye—just an optimistic see-you-later.

 

You can see more of Carola Grahn’s work at carolagrahn.se.

Hon fejkade att hon inte kom (She faked, she didn’t come),   2011, mirror and lipstick. Image via carolagrahn.se

Hon fejkade att hon inte kom (She faked, she didn’t come), 2011, mirror and lipstick. Image via carolagrahn.se

Oh cry  . Image via carolagrahn.se

Oh cry. Image via carolagrahn.se

Vidderna Ropa [Expanses(,) cry out]  ,  outside of Bildmuseet in Umeå City. Image via carolagrahn.se

Vidderna Ropa [Expanses(,) cry out]outside of Bildmuseet in Umeå City. Image via carolagrahn.se