Identity | interactive exhibition by co-creation with Sami community
In this project, we explore decolonizing perspective in design that can facilitate more democratic and anti-progress ways of designing with/for/across different communities and stakeholders. We understand and communicate the connection of diverse communities through stories of experiences from and with Sami communities, an indigenous people in Sweden. With close contact with Sami communities and support from storytelling workshops, we embrace and get a beneficial learning from diversity.
The output is an interactive exhibition depicting not only the stories, but especially our reflection on our identity and diverse culture. It makes use of physical items to shift from portraying communities through “otherness” towards portraying “we-ness”. The exhibition is part of the "Priority:Minority" exhibition at Västerbottens Museum in Umeå.
5 weeks | 2018 Feb. - Mar.
Skill: Ethnographic Research, Participatory Design, Co-creation
Research Team: Maja Björkqvist, Minh Huy Dang, Toby Whelan
Exhibition Team: Iris Ritsma, Toby Whelan
Collaboration partners: Swedish Sami National Organization, The Sami Handicraft Organization
The Grandma Check
Some students at the handicraft school told us, if they were dancing with or dating someone new, they would call their grandma to check if the person was family or not.
Q: Do you know your family tree?
Identity in language
Language means a sense of belonging; a sense
of self and identity. Many Sami cannot write or speak Sami. Those who do not speak Sami told us they wouldn’t be treated as a ‘true’ Sami by older generations. They avoid talking about their identity. This makes me reflect on my identity & culture. I feel a sense of shame because I can't speak my local dialect. In areas where they do speak my dialect, I feel excluded. What can I change to find my identity?
Q: Is your identity defined by your mother tongue?
Treatment of life experience
For one of the handicraft student's grandmother, it is too painful to talk about her history. She does not want to tell her grandchildren about it.
Q: Do you have something that you don't want to talk about?
Crafting personality into
Students working with textiles at the Sami handicraft school add small non-sami elements to the traditional clothing they make. This personal expression could be through a oral pattern, a tweak of convention, or extra details. They told us it is important, however, to retain the traditional style and techniques.
Q: Are you able to express your identity through what you wear?
Family history in the museum
Lisa’s grandmother used to own many silver brooches, handmade pieces of jewelry that are
as symbolic as the Sami clothing. One day, a local policeman forced her to sell him the silver very cheap. For many years these valuable possessions were lost from the family. Now, some of these brooches are now on display in the Sami museum, so Lisa visits the museum to reflect on her heritage.
Q: Have you ever had something taken away by the police?
We spoke with a handicraft student about the regulation of traditions in clothing. I’m impressed by how well they have preserved strict traditions until now. At the same time, I’m jealous about their efforts and persistence, because my own culture has gone lost. I reflect on what I can do to protect and develop our cultural clothing in China.
Q: Do you have your own traditional clothing at home?
Defending your family's rights for generations
One Jokkmokk’s family has been fighting for their rights of reindeer herding for 3 generations. The son is an art activist, creating political conversations through his art. He plans to pass down this passionate mission to his son, telling us: “If you have nothing to lose, you can only keep fighting.” This makes me feel solemn and stirring.
Q: Are you fighting the same battles your grandparents fought?
After years of being told he should be ashamed of his background, Alec started believing that passing on the culture would be a burden. Near his deathbed he burned everything that he owned that related to his Sami background, so he would not pass on this ‘burden’ to his children and grandchildren. It was only at his death bed that he started speaking Sami again.
Q: Is culture passed on in your family?
Guerilla herding: forced to live on the blacklist
One Jokkmokk family had their herding rights taken away in the 80s, with the government displacing them with a enormous fence. They continued herding, however, despite their family name being on the blacklist. This ‘guerilla’ reindeer herding meant they were rejected by the local Sami community for many years.
Q: Have you ever felt rejected because you were following your own rights/ morals-culture?
ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH different communities look into each other’s curious eyes
To understand what colonization and collaboration mean to indigenous communities in north Sweden, we start with a participatory field study to Jokkmokk, one of the biggest Sami communities. We live together with a local Sami host for few days and participated in her daily life. Many stories and diverse culture are shared with us.
By snowball sampling, we talk with people from different background. It touches on heavy topics like oppression and history, identity, language, culture sustainability, etc. These experience and perspectives make me reflect on my identity and culture heritage.
CO-CREATION WITH STORY TELLING
During the workshop, we share stories with stakeholders, tutors and other students in ethnographic data and insights. By grouping stories into 5 umbrellas (themes), we try to figure out the relations, contradictions and patterns with colored strings. Thus we find out the most meaningful pieces and check out possible "colonizing" depictions together.
We realized that our overall topic is "reflection on identity"
CREATING AN EXHIBITION
We started with culture as the main topic, then related to history and identity in the Sami context. The stories that we experienced are so precious and always triggers our thinking. Thus we want to deliver perspectives from both sides of Sami and us.
Before this project, when I look at tools designed for mining and foresting, I can only come out the idea of efficiency, ergonomics, and economy. I have never thought about other stakeholders in this system, such as landowners or animals. Now, I have new perspectives about environmental sustainability, culture sustainability, human rights, and maybe politics. The system is so complex that it is hard to understand and balance all the relationships inside because each stakeholder has their own interest and position. However, this is the duty of designers to look at the reality and take the long view. The value we insist in design is the most important. For some problems, they are related to other groups of people. For some problems, they are posed by contemporary everyday life.
What makes me a bit frustrated is, most problems can’t be solved by designers or only designers. Fortunately, social Innovation could give answers to the growing number of initiatives worldwide. We designers can act as triggers. We can spark off new initiatives and shape dynamic social conversations about what to do and how. We can “make things happen”.