"God’s Children – Duodji Textiles in Space"
God’s Children – Duodji Textiles in Space is the second exhibition of my artistic research on duodji (Sámi craft). It consists of the duodji textiles I have made for Hetta Church in my home region Enontekiö.
My textiles are based on duodji, the Sámi view of beauty, harmony and suitability. My works of duodji are characterised by such themes as simplicity – that less is more – and decorative minimalism, both rising from my notion of beauty. I convey a tradition, adapting my skill to new types of works, in the context of a public space.
”I take our heritage there as it is – that’s enough”. 20.2.2019.
My duodji textiles communicate with the surrounding space, respecting its restrictions and possibilities. Their forms, colours and techniques give rise to harmony. They are not coincidental, but repeat transgenerational traditions and customs, though adapted to a new time and space. Like the Sámi tradition of ceremonial dressing, my textiles enter a public space as they are, rising from their own background and showing respect for our own culture.
The natural materials of the works manifest the essence of duodji. The crafts downright demand to be sewn by hand. I conduct a dialogue with my crafts: they tell me what they want. Big textiles especially need drafting and planning, with measures included, and making sketches was indeed a new, though a mind-broadening way of working for me.
Your ideas become alive in a new way when you start by making visual notes on each duodji item. 3.4.2020
I started crafting the works at home, either outdoors or in my workroom. But the textiles did not become alive until in the space for which they were intended, in Hetta Church. I added and took away, made changes, designed, assessed the sketches in relation to the materials and the space. The crafts and the space talked to me, and I listened to and showed respect for them.
Whenever possible, I use all the extra materials, the small bits and pieces of reindeer leather and broadcloth, as well as the rests of yarn. Being economical with materials and making use of the pieces – both typical aspects of duodji – support my view of what is ecological. On the other hand, the significance of even the smallest bits reflects the value of a human being as such: we are all significant because of our lives.
There were times when I worked in our summer places in the highlands. To be able to create, I need to change the environment every now and then. In the grazinglands of our families, the invisible is present and gives its own meaning to crafts and crafting.
This project took almost a year, and, from early spring to the polar night, I carefully guarded my artistic production from the eyes of outsiders. I would not have managed without the help of my sister Kristiina. I am grateful for her sense of form, capacity for distinguishing colours and quick sewing skills! It was extremely important to be able to work together, share thoughts and see and experience the textiles in Hetta Church – and to forget together the world around us.
Altar frontal (antependium)
The altar frontal God’s Children takes me back to my earliest childhood memories and my grandmother Tuomas Kristiina’s (1894–1977) question whether I was God’s child. I didn’t know whether I was, but, to be on the safe side, I answered yes.
In the antependium, God’s children are represented in the form of reindeer leather pieces gathered in front of the altar, connected by embroidery. To see the details and the message of the work close up, one needs to kneel in front of it: to kneel down before God’s face.
The wooden reliefs of Hetta Church are repeated in the reindeer leather decorations that follow the ornamentation style of the gáktis (Sámi traditional clothing) worn in the 1920s and 1930s – the earliest style to which the traditional knowledge of my family extends. It is where I belong, it is a style the use of which I can justify.
The altar frontal communicates with Uuno Eskola’s (1889–1958) unique, bluish work of mosaic art. The couple in the altarpiece wear clothes that are similar to the ones I remember older people wearing in my childhood. The colour of the altar frontal is deep blue, a colour that was favoured in gáktis at the time of my grandparents. The deep blue is animated by a bright red and emphasised by green and white. Before decorative bands were available, we decorated our clothes and accessories by using wool yarn ornamentation and by combining broadcloth, patterned fabrics and threads.
The pulpit paraments follow the style and the colours of the altar frontal. The bigger one represents the design of the front part of a man’s gákti, and the smaller one the neckline of a woman’s gákti. The silver discs symbolise the Sámi jewellery tradition and way of using silver in clothing. Thus, my textiles are connected to history, for only the Sámi have sewn their silver items directly on leather or fabric.
The wedding rug called Pathfinder is based on the theme of love. Earlier, those on a courting trip travelled driven by a draught-reindeer that had a collar decorated with a special courting harness. The initial idea of this wedding rug was the form of the collar, the pair. It represents marriage, a couple that joins together and begins a shared journey.
The materials tell about the significance of reindeer herding for the Sámi of Enontekiö. Light squares of reindeer hide form a grid on which the couple is joined in marriage, and the dark fur creates a frame for the light squares, forming a cross in the centre of the rug. The hide squares are surrounded by the form of a collar: topmost, there is ornamentation embroidered with dyed tendon thread on the flesh side of a hide, and pieces of tanned reindeer leather. The pieces are joined by an ornamentation pattern that was used in a collar made by Erkunan Tuomma (1913–1979) – a pattern that also showed the way for me like a pathfinder. The lower part of the rug is decorated by the leg hides of eleven reindeer and pieces of tanned reindeer leather. The courting harness is symbolised by broadcloth tassels along the bottom edge and the leg hide decorations of the rug.
The wedding rug also represents the door of the goahti tent in terms of its form. For the nomadic Sámi, the goahti was home, a sacred place – the kind of haven of peace and safety that God meant a marriage to be. Between weddings, the rug is hung on the wall using transverse poles typical of the structure of a goahti; they also represent the cross poles characteristic of a goahti door.
Liturgical textiles: stoles and chalice veils
The stoles and the chalice veils follow liturgical colours and are designed according to duodji’s notion of beauty and traditions. The chalice veils repeat the idea, colour and style of each stole.
The green and the red stole share the same neck part, creating the impression of the collar of a reindeer fur coat and of the characteristic use of decorative bands in Enontekiö. The ornamentation of the green stole represents the bottom part of a man’s headdress typical of the families of Enontekiö. The red stole, in turn, is based on the broadcloth decorations on the back of a man’s gákti.
The woven band pattern of the purple stole represents the carrying band of a Sámi cradle – after all, pastors carry their stoles as a symbol of the yoke of God. This kind of ornamentation, typical of Enontekiö, suits both genders and joins the liturgical imagery through its purplish colours.
The idea behind the black and the white stoles is to combine broadcloth with silk and a touch of silver and gold. The hand-embroidered ornamentation is based on the patterns used in woven articles and horn and wood crafts.
The offering bags – or offering hats – are based on the forms and designs of men’s and women’s headdresses. The sides of the bags are decorated with a cross above fell country, in the form of the cross of Hetta Church that was burnt during the war. The red, round-bottomed bag represents a woman’s low headdress and the blue-bottomed bag a man’s four-cornered hat, repeating traditions in a new context.
The horn and birch burl handles of the offering bags have been designed and made by Kristiina Magga.
God’s Children – Duodji Textiles in Space, 2021
Photos Nilla-Mahtte Magga