For the touring art exhibition “Queer folk dress”, six contemporary artists have taken a deep dive into costume traditions, traditional crafts, and their personal selves.
Through a process of dialogue with craftspeople and the bearers of tradition in Norway and Sápmi, they have created six artworks that contribute new perspectives to ongoing debates about textiles, tradition and identity in relation to folk costume traditions.
The process has been exploratory, chaotic and unifying. Rather than upholding accepted norms, the artists have probed openings for creativity – personal, public, political and antagonistic – in folk costume traditions.
Western ideas of gender and gender identity are not the only ones. People have long lived and thought of themselves as gender fluid – like an empty cup that gets filled with something masculine, something feminine, and is then thoroughly stirred.
Rafiki uses textiles, beads and photography to challenge depictions of spaces, contexts and people affected by migration. For Rafiki, the creative process is an important aspect of the artwork – an arena for healing, reflection and community.
In "Alene sammen, som perler på en snor" (Alone Together, Like Beads on a String) she take as her starting point aesthetic and philosophical knowledge about folk costume traditions in Sápmi, Norway, and among the Luba people of the Congo. The work is about understanding what cultures have in common, and how societies and individuals are both made up of different cultural elements that are constantly in flux and giving rise to new entities.
A nation’s identity is shaped by underground cultures. Over time, something that was initially narrow takes root in popular culture.
The two-part work "Subnasjonal folkedrakt / Ny folkemusikk" (Sub-national Folk Costume / New Folk Music) consists of an outsider national costume and a musical instrument that visitors are invited to play. The idea behind the work is to make traditions and art accessible to everyone, regardless of their background and previous knowledge.
The work references aspects of Blandhoel’s personal life, as a resident at 1405 Langhus in Nordre Follo municipality: alienation, the national costume he never got, the community he found in subcultures. Details with local roots, supporter hoodies, a national costume that provides protection for minorities, noise music and the Norwegian zither all come together to form a kind of travel guide to help you navigate traditions known and unknown.
People don’t quite understand why I describe my art as angry, because to them I just sit there weaving and spinning. And it really is extremely calming. But there’s an aspect of rebellion to it.
Despite her coastal Sami origins, Márjá Karlsen learnt little about Sami culture before becoming an adult. When, several generations ago, her family moved from Sweden to Norway, they left behind all traces of their Sami identity. They adopted Norwegian surnames, learned to speak and write Norwegian, and stopped wearing gáktis (the typical Sami over-garment), with their patterns and ornamentation that convey information about the wearer and where they are from.
In the project "Láigecála" (yarn script), Karlsen shows the process of reclaiming lost cultural heritage. She has immersed herself in kommagband and patterns, and amassed knowledge in order to be able to tell her story. Using traditional Sami duodji craft techniques, activism and art, she weaves together her personal and political struggle for the right to own the culture of her origins.
For me, there’s something exciting about mixing references that have something in common, even if they don’t really come from the same place.
Adopting a queer, critical perspective, contemporary dancer Harald Beharie explores who has access to and ownership of cultural heritage. In the work Leik, he breaks down elements from a variety of cultures and probes the boundaries of cultural expression.
His sources of inspiration include the leikarring folk dance, the old tradition of wearing a headscarf to show whether or not one is married, and the durag headscarf, which for generations people with afros have been using to protect and keep their hair in place. Beharie also draws inspiration from the book "Norske folkedanser" (Norwegian Folk Dances) by the Norwegian ethnologist Klara Semb, which describes in detail the steps and tempi of various dances.
In this work, a steady, stomping beat accompanies Harald’s sensual and intense exploration of Semb’s folk dances.
This project is like a self-portrait.
How can one adapt to new cultures and traditions without losing one’s identity?
The partially autobiographical work "Bunad Tattoo Shop" addresses the theme of changing identity. With globalisation as the thematic backdrop, Lin Wang reveals the poetic, vulnerable, amusing and difficult aspects of navigating between different cultures. The work also highlights what is universal to people of all cultures: the fundamental need for security.
In "Bunad Tattoo Shop" , stories and fairy tales from several continents intersect. There are silky fringes inspired by Sami folk costumes, references to Scandinavian folk tales and sailors as historical bearers of culture between countries, and tattoos as a metaphor for the freedom to choose. “You choose the tattoo you want from a catalogue, but the designs on offer are already decided for you.”
Nobody really knows what a bunad is.
What background do we use to interpret historical themes and events? Håvard Kranstad’s work "Koll-Krone" gets to grips with aspects of the bunad tradition that the artist regards as paradoxical or contradictory.
Kranstad articulates this thematic exploration through his own craft: digital jacquard weaving. "Koll-Krone" consists of four large tapestries made from wool and glitter. The work is full of historical references and queer associations.
"Koll-Krone" relates stories from the traditions of folk costumes that haven’t previously found a place in the history books – about some of the things one could have seen, but probably didn’t.