Michiel Brouwer & Anders Sunna
With big, sad, wondering eyes, a S.mi boy watches the world. His gaze does not meet the visitor’s. Rather, he is looking off into the distance. The ore train thunders by at his side. A grotesque, monstrous creature behind him is devouring money. A belt of dynamite is fastened around the boy’s waist. Human – and humankind’s – living conditions and expectations come to a crossroads in the crown of the blast furnace at Avesta Art. Beyond the broad brushstrokes in Anders Sunna’s street-art-like painting, a myriad of details emerge in painted micro-images and collages of old photos. In powerful new photographs, Michiel Brouwer transports us to vast landscapes, where unspoilt nature meets human intervention in the form of mines and development. As a hub in this spinning reality, the wooden cover rests over the once insatiable mouth of the blast furnace. Here in the old ironworks, where the ore was once the key resource in the production of iron for the advancement of Western prosperity, art now lays bare the risks and drawbacks of human exploitation of nature. The focus is S.pmi, the native lands of the S.mi, which stretch across large areas of the Arctic and Scandinavia, covering parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the entire Kola Peninsula in Russia. The region has roughly 2.3 million inhabitants, 80,000 of which are estimated to be S.mi. Michiel Brouwer and Anders Sunna create – both individually and together – art that reports, challenges and raises questions about the S.mi community and its relationship to the majority society, as represented by both nations and large companies. Anders Sunna is himself S.mi, and hails from a family that has fought for generations for the right to work in the district they have lived in since ancient times. Michiel Brouwer is a photographer. Since his teens, he has been captivated by the depiction of indigenous people, finding images of the S.mi people static and idealized, unchanged for decades. His own photographic works have become sharp reminders of S.mi history and the scientific racism of the majority society. The artists’ work at Avesta Art explores the individual and society – the person, their place in the power structure and their interaction with other people and with nature. Like a cultural artefact from ancient Indian or Asian history, the giant strip mine in Aitik emerges in Michiel Brouwer’s photography. Its beauty is breathtaking. The rose-tinted sky hints at romance. Yet at the same time, the wound of nearly fifty years of ore mining opens, in all its nakedness. The strip mine is three kilometres long, one kilometre wide and 450 metres at its deepest point. The Aitik mine, south of G.llivare, is the largest strip mine in the Nordic region – a modern mine where 650 miners extract 36 million tonnes of ore every year, which is then refined into copper, gold and silver. The mining company in Aitik is G.llivare’s largest private employer, and the mine plays a significant role in people’s ability to live and work in the district. But the marks it leaves on the landscape will be there forever. In Brouwer’s other works, it is nature that sets the tone – vast plateaus, majestic lakes, dazzling snow-covered mountains. The smoke or steam from chimneys or industrial plants is visible on the horizon. The meeting between nature and industry is clear, but not intrusive. What it ultimately means for human lives and work, living conditions and biodiversity, is shrouded in mystery. Several of the photos at Avesta Art are from the Russian Kola Peninsula. Michiel Brouwer was born in the Netherlands and moved to Ljusdal, Sweden with his family when he was three years old. He studied photography at university in the Netherlands and then, with a stipend from The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, conducted a large-scale research project among Swedish S.mi. During an artist in residency in Kirkenes, Norway, he explored and documented issues such as the exploitation of S.pmi metals. Mining is often established and run by large companies, sometimes foreign, and the S.mi people have limited opportunities to influence conditions. Anders Sunna’s large-scale work is entitled Swedish Cooperation Game. It stands erect, a wall of street art in the room. The work’s monster-like creature has the features of a big, bad wolf who – for the moment anyway – is eating banknotes rather than small children. In honour of the day, the driver of the ore train is dressed in formal wear. On closer inspection, we see that it is the racial biologist Herman Lundborg steering the train, whose bright headlights zoom in on a phantom in traditional S.mi dress with a lasso. Among interior views of the mine, groups of S.mi children and reindeer, documents and steel fences lead thoughts to closed opportunities. No, Swedish Cooperation Game is no team-building activity. It is the majority society’s system of colonialism, racial biology and oppression. It is a rape of S.pmi. The installation Justitia est Corrumpere confirms the artists’ views. Since 1634, says the artist, when the first major silver deposit was discovered, Swedish policy has never changed. It is “only a subtler way of exercising its colonial power,” he writes. “Tougher resistance from the S.mi community is needed, before we become just a tourist trap.” Anders Sunna was born in 1985 in Jukkasj.rvi in Lapland and grew up in a reindeer-herding family in Kieksi.isvaara in Norrbotten. His art is political, strongly characterized by the collective S.mi experience and by his own family’s more than forty-year conflict with the Swedish government over the right to work and influence in their own native S.mi village. “Our confidence in the Swedish legal system is nonexistent. … I am stateless in a dictatorship,” he has written. Anders Sunna studied at Konstfack in Stockholm. He has exhibited in Sweden and around the world. In 2015, he was awarded an artist stipend by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee.