Conference article

Conventional Ethnographic Display or Subversive Aesthetics? Historical Narratives of the Sami Museum; RiddoDuottarMuseat-Sámiid Vuorká-Dávvirat (RDM-SVD) in Karasjok; Norway

Sigrid Lien
Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen, Norway

Hilde Nielssen
Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen, Norway

Download article

Published in: Great Narratives of the Past Traditions and Revisions in National Museums

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 78:37, p. 599-616

Show more +

Published: 2012-10-30


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


The question of how and where Sámi culture is best represented is a debated issue in Norway. However; politically the problem has been “solved” through the establishment of Sámi museums; run by Sámi people and administered by the Sámi Assembly. The first Sámi museum in Norway was RiddoDuottarMuseat-Sámiid Vuorká-Dávvirat (RDM-SVD) in Karasjok. Sámi museums have; however; been subjected to considerable criticism. They have been accused for propagating ethnic reification and presenting a stereotypical and static image of Sámi culture and identity. The exhibitions are seen as replicas of conventional ethnographic displays; tending to represent Sámi culture as belonging to a traditional; pre-modern past; due to a lack of chronological narration and historical anchoring. Based on fieldwork at the RDM-SVD; this article presents an analysis of the exhibition practices that challenges such earlier readings. We argue that far from replicating the exhibition language of dominant western ethnography; the exhibitions can be seen as an effort to undermine the conceptions of time and history of the dominant society. Based on a study of the museum display as a total experience; our alternative reading suggests that the museum; by evoking a mythical landscape through aesthetic means; inscribes itself into a Sámi conception of time and space – a Sámi understanding of reality. Thus; we also address the debate concerning museums in non-western spaces; and the question of recognizing indigenous curatorial practices. Not least the art section leaves an impression of a museum space less marked by closure than earlier readings suggest. Here the museum opens up for articulations with the wider world; as Sámi contemporary art not only speaks from a position of a particular locality; it also communicates with the international art scene and incorporates visions and perspectives from a global or multiple world.


No keywords available


Bal; M. (2006) ‘The Discourse of the Museum’ in R. Greenberg; B.W. Ferguson & S. Nairne Thinking about Exhibitions; edited by London & New York: Routledge.

––––. (1996) Double Exposure: The Subject of Cultural Analysis. London & New York: Routledge.

Baxandall; M. (1991) ‘Exhibiting Intention: Some Preconditions of the Visual Display of Culturally Purposeful Objects’ in I. Karp & S. D. Lavine Exhibiting Cultures. The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display; Washington/ London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Barringer; T. & T. Flynn. (1998) Colonialism and the Object. Empire; Material Culture and the Museum. London & New York: Routledge.

Castoriadis; C. (1997) The imaginary institution of society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Clifford; J. (1997) Routes. Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge; Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Coombes; A. E. (1994) Reinventing Africa. Museums; Material Culture and Popular Imagination. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Danbolt; G. (2010) ‘Om å gi melkeveien mening’ in S. Lien & C. Serck-Hansen Talende bilder. Tekster om kunst og visuell kultur. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press.

Geving; B. (2005) ‘Margit Ellinor’ in Geving; Bente; Glemte bilder; exhibition catalogue; Preus museum; Norway.

Henare; A. (2005) Museums; Anthropology and Imperial Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Isaksen; K. (2010) Sápmis kunst i globaliseringens tid. Master thesis in Art History; University of Tromsø.

Karp; I. & S. D. Lavine (1991) Exhibiting Cultures. The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Washington & London: The Smithsonian Institution Press.

Kratz; C.A. (2011) ‘Rhetorics of Value: Constituting Worth and Meaning through Display’ in Visual Anthropology Review; Vol. 27; Issue 1; pp. 21–48.

Kreps; C. F. (2003) Liberating culture: cross-cultural perspectives on museums; curation; and heritage preservation. London & New York: Routledge.

Lidchi; H. (2006) ‘Culture and Constraints: Further Thoughts on Ethnography and Exhibiting’ in International Journal of Heritage Studies Vol.12; issue 1; pp. 93–114.

Macdonald; S. and P. Basu (ed.) (2007) Exhibition Experiments. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Macdonald; S. (2011) ‘Expanding Museum Studies: An Introduction’ in S. Macdonald (ed.) A Companion to Museum Studies; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Mathisen; S. O. (2010) ‘Likt men likevel forskjellig. Om representasjon av samiskidentitet og forhistorie i samiske museer og majoritetsmuseer’ in B. Rogan & A.B. Amundsen Samling og Museum. Kapitler av Museenes Historie; Praksis og Ideologi. Oslo: Novus.

McLaughlin; M. (1999) Museums and the Representation of Native Canadians. Negotiating the Borders of Culture. New York & London: Garland Publishing; Inc.

Nielssen; H. (2011) Ritual Imagination. A Study of Tromba Possession among the Betsimisaraka in Eastern Madagascar. Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Olsen; B. (2000) ‘Bilder fra Fortida? Representasjoner av Samisk Kultur i Samiske Museer’. Nordisk Museologi 2; pp. 13–30.

Pollock; G. (2007) ‘Unframing the Modern: Critical Space/ Public Possibility’ in G. Pollock & J. Zemans (eds.) Museums After Modernism. Strategies of Engagement; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Preziosi; D. (2011) ‘Art History and Museology: Rendering the Visible Legible’ in S. Macdonald (ed.) A Companion to Museum Studies; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Sandbye; M. (2001) Mindesmærker. Tid og erindring i fotografiet; København: Rævens Sorte Bibliotek.

Serck-Hansen; C. (2002) ‘Iver Jåk’s kunstnerskap – et riss’ in Offelas: Iver Jåks veiviseren; Tromsø: Universitetet i Tromsø/ Ravnetrykk.

Simpson; M. G. (1996) Making Representations. Museums in the Post-Colonial Era. London & New York: Routledge.

Thomas; N. (1994) Colonialism’s Culture. Anthropology; Travel and Government. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Vergo; P. (1989) ‘The Reticent Object’ in P. Vergo (ed.) The New Museology. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Webb; S. (2006) ‘Making Museums; Making People: The Representation of the Sámi through Material Culture’ in Public Archaeology 5; pp. 167–83.

Citations in Crossref