A text by Jan-Erik Lundström

The current contemporary art scene in Norrbotten is a development of recent years. In the last decade, leading visual art institutions such as Havremagasinet, the Luleå Art Biennial, Galleri Syster and Konstmuseet i Norr have been established, enabling a greater presence and exchange of contemporary art at a national and international level. In addition, Resurscentrum för konst with its active support, has contributed to a large number of projects and public art commissions engaging visual artists within the region. Parallelly, a growing presence of art practitioners returning after completing formal education, has strengthen the art and cultural production of Norrbotten.

Cultural policies reserved to fund the development of public institutions and art practices came into existence in the 1960s. Prior to this period, the visual arts sector was made up by independent local artists, non-profit organisations and art patronage. With the founding of the city of Kiruna and thanks to the sponsorship coming from Hjalmar Lundbohmof (first director of the mining industries), an early cultural scene started to develop attracting national artists to the city. Lundbohmof amassed an ample private collection, which at a later stage was donated to the municipality of Kiruna, becoming the most important public art collection in Norrbotten (now housed in Konstmuseet i Norr).

Kiruna and the mountainous region of Norrbotten was the place of choice for the leading landscape painters and the Swedish romantic movement of the 19th century. Exhibitions started to take place as early as 1903 boosting the city's reputation as a visual arts hub.This was a key factor for the Swedish national avant-garde to spend time in the town. It is during this period, that the process of national identity, colonisation and the exploitation of natural resources developed. Borg Mesch, a photographer based in Kiruna, documented this important chapter of history through portraits of the Sami people, their culture, Kebnekaises mountain peaks and the building process of the city itself.

The municipality of Kiruna, with its own funding scheme, the Kirunastipendiet (The Kiruna stipend), was able to create and support an early artists-in-residency program in 1959. Through this fund, a continuous flow of artists coming to work in Kiruna allowed a broader dialogue between the national and the local scene. During the 1960s and 1970s, additional infrastructures and changes supporting artistic practices developed. A variety of important artist collectives were formed, some in connection with workshops dedicated to printmaking, ceramics, glass and metal work production. Konstnärernas Kollektiv Verkstad (KKV), founded in Luleå, is a prime example still functioning today.

The town hall of Kiruna, Norrbottens Museum alongside exhibition venues supporting regional artists by local municipalities in Luleå, Boden, Kalix, Arvidsjaur and Haparanda were also established during this period. In the early 80’s, Luleå opened the Fotograficentrum Norrbotten (Norrbotten Centre of Photography), an important organisation and exhibition space supporting documentary and independent art photography.

Luleå Biennial 2018

Galleri Syster in Luleå


With Luleå as its base, influential painter and draughtsman Mats Risberg, initiated Norrbottens Bildgrupp in 1977. The Tuoddargruppen (the Tuoddar Group) formed in 1975 in the town of Gällivare/Malmberget, linked important artists such as Lena Nallo, Berry Kurkkio, and Nicolaus SkumIn. From 1960’s onwards, a small but active contemporary art scene started to operate in the small city of Boden. A loose group of artists named Bodenskolan (The Boden School), integrated mostly by painters ( June Montana Lorentz and Bror Zachrisson as the two most prominent), worked together developing their individual practices and common aesthetics.The presence of a considerable middle-class residing in the city, secured a stable art market.

Thanks to the growing influence of KRO (Konstnärernas Riksorganisation - the union of visual artists), the national, regional and municipal cultural authorities increased their support to artists. Norrbottens läns landsting (The Norrbotten County Authority) extended its policy and investment funds for art to be displayed in public buildings. Overall, government grants and other funding platforms opened a variety of opportunities for artists living in Norrbotten. The establishment of Sunderbyns konstskola, a pre-university/art-academy, was also influential back in 1963. In fact, the majority of art practitioners in Norrbotten today started their careers while studying at Sunderbyn.

Above: a picture from the exhibition "Bodenskolan" at Havremagasinet, Boden

Right: the building of Sunderby folkhögskola

Even though landscape painting remained a dominant genre in the post-war years, a different discourse within the contemporary art scene was generated during the 60s and 70s. Charles Portin, an established modernist prior WW2, left naturalism behind for constructivism and abstract painting. Leading artist Alvar Jansson (born in Kiruna), kept his home town and surroundings as the main motif in his work. Jansson pursued a realist style depicting the sociopolitical conditions of the workers and industry. The development of graphic arts in the 1970s also reflected this issues, linking the political and environmental movements of the time.

Erling Johansson an influential painter and object maker also working with experimental film, took expressionism and conceptualism in his practice, while Sture Berglund documented the changing landscape in his paintings and drawings with scientific precision. Surrealism and symbolism influenced the work of Per Fredrik Glommé, Bror Zachrisson, Margareta Renberg and Jan Anders Eriksson. Throughout the 20th century, folk art and naive painting were also significant modes of expression. Elis Aidanpää (belonging to the Tornedalen meänkieli minority ethnic group), alongside Tora Regina Rensgard and Inger Anderssons are important figures. (The exhibition Where Love is, at Havremagasinet in 2016 was an important exploration of this genre – see

Artist unions within the Sami were also established in 1978. The Sámi Dáiddáčehpiid Searvi, for example, supports the important tradition known as duodji together with contemporary art practices coming from the community. Britta Marakatt-Labba, active since the 1970s, extends traditional duodji in her embroidered work narratives. Nils Nilsson Skum, Lars Pirak, Nils Aslak Valkeapää, Iver Jåks and Johan Tuuri are predecessors of such style. A growing contemporary discourse dealing with issues embedded in colonial history, Sami identity, human rights and political activism has taken place ever since. Artists such as Rose Marie Huuva, Maj Doris Rimpi, Lena Stenberg and more recently, Katarina Pirak-Sikku, Anders Sunna, Liselotte Wajstedt and Carola Grahn are important figures of this movement.