Exhibition

Britta Marakatt-Labba. Moving the needle

Using needle and thread, Britta Marakatt-Labba creates a rich and varied visual universe, at the heart of which stand the environmental struggle and climate issues seen from an indigenous perspective.

  • 15 March–25 August 2024
  • The National Museum

For half a century, Britta Marakatt-Labba (b. 1951 in Idivuoma, Sápmi) has been one of Sápmi’s most prominent artists. The largest exhibition of her art to date, Needle-sharp Stitches presents textiles, prints, installations, and sculpture from her extensive production.

Here you can view early sketches and drawings that have never been shown before, and iconic works such as Garjját / The Crows (1981), and Girddi noaiddit / Flying Shamans (1986). At the centre of the exhibition is the monumental work Historjá, a 24-metre-long embroidery depicting scenes from Sami history, mythology, and everyday life.

Since the 1970s, Marakatt-Labba has emerged as a highly distinctive voice in the Nordic art world. Plying needle and thread in a range of materials of various thickness, she patiently builds a pictorial world that reflects aspects of Sami life and culture, past and present. She evokes a wealth of stories from her own experience, with a message that nature and its resources must be preserved.

For her National Museum exhibition, she has created an entirely new work that warns forcefully against the mining of minerals around her home town of Kiruna and the wide-scale industrialisation of nature. Myths, dreams, and religion are also important themes in her pictures, many of which reveal a clear sense of humour.

Working with embroidery you have time to think. With watercolours, everything happens so fast. To me, it doesn’t matter if something takes time.

Britta Marakatt-Labba, from the exhibition catalogue

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

Around 1980, Britta Marakatt-Labba took part in protests against the development of the Alta-Kautokeino water course. It was terrifying to see peaceful demonstrators being arrested by police. In Gárjjat / The Crows, crows represent the agents of state authority. The embroidery uses the basic similarity between the dark, carrion-eating birds and uniformed police.

In Girddi noaiddit / Flying Shamans, the police are shown as rats herded into the sea by flying noaids. The noaid is a shaman who mediates between the worlds of humans and spirits, moving from place to place in a trance and protecting against harmful forces. These works have become icons for new protests. During Sami demonstrations in Oslo in 2023, Garjját was heard again as a rallying cry and joik.

As an artist and environmental activist, Britta Marakatt-Labba has been a source of inspiration for a new generation of young people fighting for nature conservation in general and Sami rights in particular. In 1978, she helped to establish Mázejoavku (the Masi group), a politically radical artist group that has become a major force in raising the profile of Sami art and safeguarding the rights of Sami artists.

In 2017, Britta Marakatt-Labba made a major international breakthrough with her participation in the contemporary art exhibition “documenta 14” in Germany. She has been purchased for many museums and private collections, and has received a wide range of prizes and awards. In 2020, she was awarded the Prins Eugen medal for outstanding artistic achievement. After countless exhibitions at home and abroad over the past forty years, she is now considered one of the foremost textile artists in Sápmi and the Nordic region.