Biennale of Sydney

Anders Sunna

Anders Sunna, SOAÐA, installation view (2020) for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Campbelltown Arts Centre. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.

Anders Sunna

Born 1985 in Kieksiäisvaara, Sápmi / Sweden
Lives and Works in Jokkmokk, Sápmi / Sweden

Anders Sunna is a visual artist with different dimensions of style. Since his adolescence, he has used art as a form of political agitation. His large paintings, installations and performance acts are about the oppression he and his family experience and the struggle for their rights. Through his art he expresses a diversity of emotions that cannot be conveyed in words – emotions that are rooted in the racialisation of the Sámi, the abuses they have endured and are still forced to wrestle with today.

"I was only one year old when it happened – the forced transfer of my family one summer in 1986. We were told in advance, then the Swedish police came with their orders. Along with with the forced relocation the Swedish state built a fence 30 km long to prevent our reindeer from returning home. This fence cost the state three million Swedish kronas to build and still exists today. 

"My family’s persecution started as early as 1971 when the state decided that everyone in my family would be prohibited from practising reindeer husbandry, something we had done for so long that nobody knows when it started. Not only were the rights taken away from us, but they were given to the people of Sweden as a fun hobby one could engage in but not live by. They lacked the traditional Sámi reindeer herding knowledge. Then lawsuits and police reports were filed against us, just for fighting for our rights as Indigenous people.

"As I grew older, I became interested in using art as a weapon in the political struggle. Imagine being able to speak all the world’s languages without saying a sound. To reach people’s hearts first and then their consciousness. The anger you are carrying suddenly finds a way to emerge but in a more creative form, stronger than iron. 

"Art is that. During my upbringing, we did not have the financial opportunity to document our history with cameras. But with the help of each other’s memories and experiences, we were able to talk about it. And later, we could begin to make a life through art. Art has played a very important role in our family’s survival, through art life became easier for us. Eventually, people began to hear our story. 

"Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of all of this is that we received no support from our own people – the Sámi people. They turned their backs on us in much the same way the majority have. My family’s, and my people’s, long struggle is a conflict that has shaped my artistry. It is the basis of and has been the major part of my life. Who would I have been without that conflict? 

"Dad told me and my brothers brothers: ‘You have three alternatives in life. One – you can start dispensing drugs and alcohol to escape. Two – you can commit suicide. Three – you can fight the rest of your life’."

Exhibited Artwork

Anders Sunna, SOAÐA, 2020, mixed media. Co-commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney and Campbelltown Arts Centre Courtesy the artist

Photograph: Installation view (2020) at Campbelltown Arts Centre. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.

Location: Campbelltown Arts Centre