Representing the Sami in museum exhibitions and collections

In my work with diversity issues, as a curator and researcher, I have focused on how minorities and indigenous groups have been represented in museums. Like for many other ethnologists and cultural historians, the question of the Other’s language has not been among my main topics. But when I think of my work, I find that it has been continuously present. In exhibitions you must determine what language/s to use for texts and labels. When collecting artefacts you have to assign them specific item names. When utilizing historical sources for writing, you have to decide what terms and concepts to use for peoples and places – the historical or the contemporary ones – which is particularly sensitive in a post-colonial situation.

In my presentation I will start with how Sami cultural heritage has been represented in museums, particularly the Nordic Museum in Stockholm. I will then reflect upon the issues above, with examples from my own experience but also in a time perspective: how the museums’ preferential right of interpretation today is challenged by a new attention to indigenous knowledge and indigenous views. What can the problems be and what are the possibilities?

Biography Eva Silvén

For the last ten years, she has focused on the representation of Sami in museums from a museological perspective. First, she has taken part in the production of the permanent exhibition Sápmi (opened 2007) and some additional publications. In addition, from 2009 she has been involved in the research project Konstruktionen av ett samiskt kulturarv: Ernst Manker och Nordiska museet / The construction of a Sami cultural heritage: Ernst Manker and the Nordic Museum (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond). Several papers and publications from the project are available at, in Swedish or English.

In 2018 the project will be summed up in the book Friktion. Ernst Manker, Nordiska museet och det samiska kulturarvet / Friction. Ernst Manker, the Nordic Museum and the Sami Cultural Heritage.