The Áltá-Guovdageino Action (c. 1978–82) radically shook the course of history in the Nordic region. Its call to ‘let the river live’ was launched against the construction of a large dam across the legendary Álttáeatnu (Áltá river) in Sápmi/Northern Norway. It grew from an unexpectedly broad movement of solidarity across civil society – Sámi, Norwegian and international – in which Sámi artists played a crucial role.
The Áltá Action was a reaction to the profound impact for Sámi communities, their livelihoods, their cultural heritage, and as environmental protectors, of the flooding by the dam of large areas of Sápmi. The resistance movement was as unprecedented within the history of social protest in Europe, as was its dramatic climax – the Sámi hunger strikes in Oslo in 1979. Morevoer it was part of the Áltá Action's new environmental consciousness of the 1970s, as well as the emerging histories of Indigenous empowerment of the time.
Today the action elicits bitter-sweet memories. Some historians have claimed that in catalysing Norway's signature of the United Nation's ILO Convention 169 and the creation of a Sámi Parliament, Kárášjohka, 1989, the action announced a new era of Nordic de-colonisation. One that potentially placed Norway at the fore-front of social justice policy-making world-wide. Yet a new generation of Sámi artists and thinkers claim that this process stalled early on coinciding with the rise of a new economy in Norway, and that the very survival of Sámi culture, land, livelihood and world-views is in serious danger today. Their voices are much sought after amongst the most prestigious cultural arenas internationally, and play an essential role within the powerful Indigenous movement spreading across the world – artistically, ecologically and politically.
'Let the River Flow' is the fruit of three years of dialogue with artists, scholars, and other cultural peers and peoples across Sápmi, traversing four nation-states (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). The exhibition showcases the essential role of Sámi artists in the action, in particular the radical Mázejoavku: Sámi Dáiddajoavku (Sámi Artists’ Group, 1978-83), as well as the solidarity of non-Sámi counterparts. It presents rare historic works side-lined from the Nordic art historical canon, as well as material from the The Archives of the Protest Movement against the damming of the Áltá-Guovdageino water system and new contemporary commissions that explore the legacy of Áltá today. 'Let the River Flow' simultaneously claims and challenges the place of Sámi art amongst the new global, modernist, museologies dedicated to expand the canon of art history to a world-scale.
'Let the River Flow' is curated by Katya García-Antón, with Antonio Cataldo. The project has been honoured by the guidance of an Advisory Council consisting of Sámi scholars, Dr. Gunvor Guttorm and Prof. Harald Gaski. The exhibition design is fruit of a Sámi-Norwegian collaboration by A-Lab (Káre R. Anti) and Torsteinsen Design.
Artworks, performances and lectures will be presented by: Nabil Ahmed, Áillohaš/Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Maria Thereza Alves, Jimmie Durham, Elle Márjá Eira, Mai-Lis Eira, Pauliina Feodoroff, Aage Gaup, Trygve Lund Guttormsen, Josef Halse, Geir Tore Holm and Søssa Jørgensen, Berit Marit Hætta, Susanne Hætta, Iver Jåks, Keviselie/Hans Ragnar Mathisen, Áine Mangaoang, Britta Marakatt-Labba, Joar Nango and Tanya Busse, Rannveig Persen, Synnøve Persen, Máret Ánne Sara, Arvid Sveen, Elin Már Øyen Vister, amongst other contributors.