Joint exhibitions open at All My Relations and American Swedish Institute

Joint exhibitions open at All My Relations and American Swedish Institute

Published February 12th, 2024 by Carl Atiya Swanson

With three shows – Mygrations, Arctic Highways, and Okizi (To Heal) – two South Minneapolis venues explore the connections between different Indigenous cultures


The Arctic is a highway. The tree limit, the scarcity of trees, freed people to walk. Particularly in the wintertime. Which connected people physically, communicatively. And mythically. The long nights of winter free people to tell. And to listen. – Nils-Aslak Valkeapää


How does it feel when we see time as circular and not linear?” This question frames the installation Mygration, part of a trio of shows including Arctic Highways: Unbounded Indigenous People, and Okizi (To Heal), presented at the American Swedish Institute and All My Relations Arts. The shows feature overlapping artists, themes of resilience and return, and interlocking Indigenous narratives, from the Arctic Circle to the American Plains. In this unsettlingly balmy Minnesota winter, dissonance and resonance are all there to explore.

Arctic Highways originated out of the residency program Sápmi Salasta at the Aejiles Sámi Center in Tärnaby, Sweden. The residency was founded by artist Tomas Colbengtson and was designed to bring together Indigenous artists from the Arctic circle – Sámi are the Indigenous peoples of northern Scandinavia, spread across what is now Norway, Sweden, Finland, and parts of Russia. Arctic Highways features 12 Indigenous artists, and Colbengtson says of the show, that “[I]t's kind of building knowledge through art, healing, and making new knowledge and changing the world. Arctic Highways is created by Indigenous and it's mainly for Indigenous, but being welcome to everybody.”

The work in Arctic Highways is striking. Colbengtson includes a large, vibrating Sámi drum covered in historical portraits, which creates a thrumming soundtrack in the gallery. Sonya Kelliher-Combs’ Credible, Small Secrets is a series of small, wall-mounted hand stitched fabric and beaded vessels with human hair sprouting off them, intriguing in their own right, and then devastating when paired with wall text detailing information of abuse covered up by the Catholic Church in Alaska. Maureen Gruban’s Seal in our blood takes the form of an extruded vein, coiled on the floor and mounted to the ceiling, a vivid velvet red broken up by fur and skin, a combination of Eva Hesse and Meret Oppenheim. The photo and video work of Matti Aikio, Marja Helander, and Meryl McMaster both capture landscapes and insert themselves, animals, and elaborate wearable designs as interrogations of people’s place and impact on nature.

Natural cycles and Sámi history also inspired Mygration, the collaboration between Colbengtson and Swedish painter Stina Folkebrant that is installed on the fourth floor of ASI, and continued in the Okizi (To Heal) exhibit at All My Relations Arts. The Sámi are expert reindeer herders, and in the 1890s, a group of Sámi emigrated across the Atlantic and up to Alaska with a herd of reindeer, to teach the Yup’ik and Inupiaq people animal husbandry after American and Russian trappers had decimated local animal populations. Folkebrant saw a documentary about this migration, and reached out to Colbengtson with an idea.


Top: Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Credible Small Secrets. Work exhibited as part of Arctic Highways. Photography credit: Elisabeth Ohlson. Bottom: Stina Folkebrant, Mygration (detail), 2021. Acrylic on canvas. Images courtesy of American Swedish Institute.


Folkebrant makes large-scale paintings of animals and nature; for Mygration, she created paintings of reindeer migration which encircle Colbengtson’s suspended images of Sámi people, creating an opportunity for interplay and meditation on the relationship to nature and culture. “We chose the title with an M and a Y because it's a personal movement, and it's also a movement of groups of people,” notes Folkebrant. “So we're trying to connect the past's history with the present because there are a lot of migrations all over the world, refugees and so on, and how do we bring it into the future? So we're thinking about the movement that creates time, the past, present, and future.”

When the shows were planned for Minneapolis, ASI looked for local partners and began speaking to All My Relations Arts as a potential for partnership. “For me, ASI approached us, and really initially it was, ‘We’re neighbors and let’s get to know each other,’” says Angela Two Stars, AMRA’s Arts Director. “As they came through, they shared about the Arctic Highways show and the Sámi, and at the time I knew nothing about them. Talking more and more about Stina’s work, and the Sámi and how they migrate with the reindeer, it’s so similar to Plains Indians and how they migrate with the buffalo. There’s a shared cultural similarity, and also the shared cultural impacts of colonization on language, religion, boarding schools, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, us too!’”


Okizi (To Heal), installation view at All My Relations Arts. Photo by Carl Atiya Swanson.


From those conversations, Okizi (To Heal) was organized, extending Colbengston and Folkebrant’s work over to All My Relations Arts, with AMRA curating and inviting a group of American Indian artists to reflect on the themes of the exhibits. The joint nature of the exhibitions is an opportunity for both organizations to invite and extend their audiences. Erin Stromgren, ASI’s Exhibitions Manager says, “ASI's mission is to be a gathering place for all people. We bring over international exhibitions, and in doing that, we always look through a lens of how can we connect locally.” Directional signage and wayfinding at ASI encourages patrons to head down Franklin Avenue. For her part, Two Stars reflects that she knows “people grow up in south Minneapolis, they see this mansion, and not go in, and I think sometimes the biggest hurdle is just walking in the door, for Native people, not feeling safe. And to have Native artists head over, that opens the door.”

At All My Relations Arts, buffalo and reindeer intermingle in Okizi (To Heal). Keith BraveHeart’s wall-size community mural, Wayanka Hotan’in (Seeing Our Voices) – “Buffalo Nation: Creating Community” takes inspiration from a historical photo of piles of buffalo skulls, and reimagines it as a bright chorus, including written reflections from participants. Adrienne Keene’s Igai (not-dark) and Galohisdi (Pathway) are the traditional forms of a basket and shoulder bag, but made of recycled electrical wire and reclaimed LED string. Colbengtson’s work often incorporates historical images from residential schools, and that history of dispossession and reclamation connects the shows at ASI and All My Relations. At AMRA, Colbengtson’s pieces sit next to Racquel Banaszak’s wood-mounted digital photo collages, full of clouds and the sense of dreamy possibility. At ASI, Minneapolis-based artist Tamara Aupaumut exhibits a delicate pair of papier-mâché moccasins, poignantly titled Our Traditions Are Our Records. Colbengston reflects on this shared history, “So we have shared so many painful experiences, but also we have this promise in a very surviving culture and promise and knowledge.”


Keith BraveHeart, Wayanka Hotan’in (Seeing Our Voices) – “Buffalo Nation: Creating Community”. Photo by Carl Atiya Swanson.


The promise of healing and hope is present in the exhibits, but it is fragile and often personal. Angela Two Stars emphatically notes that “healing is an individual decision and that’s why it’s ‘Okizi’, the singular.” As the Sámi look for increasing recognition and autonomy, Colbengtson argues that art is crucial. “I would say that the Sámi artist, filmmaker, writer, and theatre has done more for Sámi rights than the Sámi politicians,” he says. “Because we are more like the language of art and film that can be interpreted more easily than politician’s struggles.”

But the threats of history repeating itself, of not being taken seriously, and of irreversible change are also heavy in the exhibitions. Dan Jåma’s video installation, Leave No Trace, tracks the destruction of Sámi grazing land and mountains as windmills are built – the industry of green energy now displacing the Sámi. The lamentation of a herder interviewed in the video encapsulates the precariousness of our cultural and natural ecologies: “No one will listen to our knowledge, and no one will believe us. That’s the threat to our way of life.” With 50 degree February days in Minnesota, time may be circular, but it seems to be rolling towards something altogether new. ◼︎ 


Matki Sami ja Sami aigodagaid cada by Gunvor Guttorm. Work exhibited as part of Arctic Highways. Photography credit: Elisabeth Ohlson. Image courtesy of American Swedish Institute.

Mygration and Arctic Highways: Unbounded Indigenous People are on view at American Swedish Institute through May 26. Gallery hours are 10am – 4pm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday – Sunday, and 10am – 8pm on Thursday. For admission costs and exhibition information, visit

Okizi (To Heal) is on view at All My Relations Arts through April 13. Gallery hours are 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Friday, and 12 – 3pm on Saturday. Exhibitions are free and open to the public. For more info, visit

Banner image: Meryl McMaster, What Will I Say to the Sky and Earth II. Work exhibited as part of Arctic Highways. Image courtesy of American Swedish Institute.

Additional related events:

Sámi Histories, Colonization and Today: Lecture 2

Wednesday, February 21, 6:30 – 8pm

American Swedish Institute. Tickets: $20 ($15 ASI member) 

Midwinter Folk Fest

Saturday, March 2 &  Sunday, March 3, 10am – 4pm

American Swedish Institute. Tickets: One day: $25 ($20 ASI members) or both days: $50 ($40 ASI members)

Avant Joik: Katarina Barruk, Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, and Matti Aikio

Saturday, March 16, 8  – 10pm

Walker Art Center. Tickets start at $15.

We can't do it without you.

Help keep independent arts journalism alive in the Twin Cities.