Performing the Sami Experience

    • Presentation speakers
      • Kristine Nielsen, Illinois Wesleyan University, USA


    This paper examines the on-going projects of the contemporary Swedish artist Mattias Olofsson who dons the persona of an historical figure in performances, videos, and photographs. His chosen figure is a woman nick-named Stor-Stina (Big Stina) who grew to be over two meters tall. She was of Sami descent, a formerly nomadic and colonized people still residing in northern Finland, Russia, Sweden, and Norway. She was born in 1819 in Swedish Lapland and at the age of 18, she joined a German manager who staged her in traveling shows throughout Europe in a freak show, dressed in Sami attire and promoting her as the world’s tallest woman born of “Pygmies.” Mattias Olofsson dresses up as Big Stina in performances, photographs, and films that serve as a vehicle for Olofsson to address gender performance, Swedish national relations to the Sami, and his own appropriation of a marginalized subject. In one of his Big Stina projects, 1999-2000, he travels to numerous European cities and interviews locals about their cultural traditions. Accompanied by a photographer, Olofsson observes and is observed as a spectacle, as he tours Venice in a gondola wearing long black braids and a Sami dress. Olofsson’s 2005 performance, Culture Constructing Nature, consists of three, large-scale photographs depicting Olofsson as Stor-Stina inside the diorama exhibition spaces of a Swedish natural history museum and together with taxidermic zoological specimens. This paper asks what it means to portray and speak on behalf of an historically colonized subject. It argues that the rich complexity with which Olofsson performs his “alter ego” saves this precarious project, as he re-formulates identity processes, and re-contextualizes a historical subject to address contemporary concerns as well.