Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

More Than Meets the Eye: The Indigeneity of Johan Turi's Writing and Artwork

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

More Than Meets the Eye: The Indigeneity of Johan Turi's Writing and Artwork

Article excerpt

JOHAN TURI was more than a writer. The main purpose of this article is to offer a glimpse of Turi's artistic production alongside his prose. In addition to the images originally published in Muitalus samiid birra, Turi produced a number of other pictures as well. None of these had ever been published until the anniversary edition of Turi's work in 2010 although it appears that Emilie Demant Hatt may have organized an exhibition of Turi's artwork at some point. (1) Turi's first pictures were intended as fairly straightforward clarifications of points covered in his text, but gradually, he seems to have grown more expressionistic in his handling of visual genres. His artwork has received little critical attention to date, but it is rather obvious that Turi was influenced by trends in modern art. These he would have come in contact with during his visits to the home of Hjalmar Lundbohm (discussed in Kristin Kuutma's article within this collection), Turi's good friend and an avid collector of art. It is also likely that Emilie Demant, an active artist herself, would have brought Turi to the Danish National Museum during Turi's visit to Copenhagen after the publication of Muitalus in 1911. At the National Museum, Turi had the same opportunity as Picasso to be inspired by foreign artworks like African masks. His images, as we shall see below, have a strong narrative component and reflect much the same approach to knowledge and storytelling evident in his text.

The main intent of this paper is to provide an interpretation and analysis of Turi's artwork based on his own way of thinking, his words, and his observations. It is thus important to provide details regarding the time and context in which Muitalus--as well as Turi's other works-were produced. My references in the following are to images and page numbers as they occur in the 2010 anniversary edition of Muitalus, although some of the most pertinent images have been reproduced in the pages of this journal as well. (2)

The renowned Sami multimedia artist, recipient of the Nordic Council's Prize for Literature, Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa, (3) describes Turi's method of writing as stream of consciousness and places him in a distinguished and international cadre of writers. Valkeapaa wished to honor Turi by writing a book about him based primarily on the decades-long correspondence that survives between Turi and Demant Hatt. It is also clear, however, that Aillohas/Valkeapa found in Ovles Juhan Turi a kindred soul. Valkeapaa's book Boares nauti Johan Thuri [the old wolf Johan Turi] is a markedly personal examination of the first multimedia artist of Sapmi by perhaps the most famous Sami celebrity of the modern era. From the point of view of Sami literary history, Valkeapaa's tribute holds great significance both as a compilation of original materials related to Turi's life and relations, and as an aesthetic response paralleling in a certain sense the tribute Turi received from the pen of Knut Hamsun in the immediate aftermath of the original publication of his book, a review that appeared in the Oslo newspaper Verdens Gang in January, 1911 (Hamsun).

Like Valkeapaa, I believe that Johan Turi was much more than simply a producer of ethnographic descriptions and depictions--he aimed at being an artist. This I hope to demonstrate in the following discussion, despite the rather limited archival evidence left to us. I believe that the artwork included in the 2010 edition of Muitalus--and formerly completely overlooked by scholars as well as publishers--attests clearly to Turi's artistic ambitions. But, as we shall see, Turi's interlocutors, Emilie Demant Hatt and Hjalmar Lundbohm, showed little support of Turi's expressionistic side. I also hope to dispel the notion that Turi's drawings and paintings were somehow naive or simplistic: they are, in fact, sophisticated contemplations that tread a fine line between realism and expressionism, depicting--as I hope to show below--more than would be possible to see from a single vantage point and reflecting Turi's understandings of the world and of the activities that he sought to present in his book. …

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