Sámi art on now at Queen Sonja’s stable

The venue, once home to the royal horses, is one of Oslo’s newest art attractions

Queen Sonja Art Stable

Photo: Sven Gj. Gjeruldsen / The Royal Court
Queen Sonja during the first exhibition at Queen Sonja’s Art Stable in 2017.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

When in Oslo you should visit the Queen Sonja Art Stable, located by the Royal Palace. Norway has had three queens since gaining its independence in 1905. Queen Maud retreated to her horses for relaxation. For Her Majesty Queen Sonja, art is a corresponding source of recreation.

The stables were completed at the same time as the Royal Palace in 1849 and had space for 38 horses. When the new royal family took up permanent residence in the palace in 1905, they needed a better-equipped stable. English-born Queen Maud had a passion for horses and was a highly accomplished equestrian. Under her leadership, the stables were expanded and remodeled between 1908 and 1911. The last horses were moved from the stables in autumn 1940. The Nazi occupying forces in WWII used the building as a warehouse and office space.

The Royal Stables were remodeled into an art gallery as a gift to Queen Sonja and opened on her 80th birthday, July 4, 2017.

Queen Sonja Art Stable

Photo: Øivind Möller Bakken /
The Royal Court
Queen Sonja’s Art Stable.

Different exhibitions are mounted each year. These vary between art exhibitions and objects from the Royal Collection. This summer, the exhibition Histories: Three Generations of Sámi artists shows art from roughly 1970 to today and includes more than 60 works by a total of 13 artists in different media. The title “Histories” carries a double meaning. The exhibition presents the stories of three generations of Sámi history, society, and identity. It also includes art from Sweden and Finland. It will conclude at the end of August.

In his opening speech at the Sámi Parliament in 1997, His Majesty King Harald V said that the Norwegian state was founded on the territory of two people, Norwegians and Sámi. Sámi history is closely interwoven with Norwegian history. Today, we must apologize for the injustice previously inflicted on the Sámi people by the Norwegian state through its harsh assimilation policy.

Queen Sonja Art Stable

Photo: © Cathrine Wang / KORO
From the current exhibition at Queen Sonja’s Art Stable, Histories: Three generations of Sámi artists, Britta Marakatt-Labba’s tapestry, “Historjá” (detail), 2003–2007. It features embroidered motifs from Sámi history, society, and lifestyle back to mythical times, employing a number of techniques such as embroidery, applique, and collage.

From the 1970s onward, art played an increasingly influential role in the ongoing development of Sámi society, politics, and identity. This must be seen as a reaction against the government’s assimilation policy under which the traditional Sámi way of life, language, and culture had been systematically repressed since the 1800s. This reached its climax in the Alta-Kautokeino controversy in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Sámi activists and environmentalists joined forces to protest against the state’s plan to construct a dam and hydroelectric power plant in the Alta River in Finnmark, affecting a Sámi village. The political movement that emerged from these events led to increasing acknowledgement of Sámi indigenous rights, and to the establishment of the Sámi parliament in 1989. Activists played, and continue to play, a key role in these developments.

In recent years, contemporary Sámi art has attracted considerable attention and gained recognition both in Scandinavia and abroad. In 2014-15, Sámi art was presented to an international audience in the United States at the exhibition, “Sámi Stories.” The exhibit at the Queen Sonja Art Stables is the first comprehensive presentation in Norway’s capital of Sámi artists of the present day and recent past.

Let me just mention one of the artists, Britta Marakatt-Labba and her monumental tapestry, “History.” It features embroidered motifs from Sámi history, society, and lifestyle back to mythical times. The work was created from 2003-2007 for UiT—The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. She employs a number of techniques, such as embroidery, applique, and collage. She has participated in several prominent exhibitions including in New York and Anchorage, Alaska.

For many, the Royal Stables in itself is worth a visit.

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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