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Last weekend I visited the Britta Marakatt-Labba exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. I went expecting to enjoy it but also came away really touched by the deep, unwavering meaning woven into the creation of the pieces and by the obvious beautifulness of the work.

Marakatt-Labba creates “embroidered resistance” art using embroidery to illustrate stories of Sami culture and mythology. The work appears gentle, the materials soft but the stories they tell and the meaning of the pieces is strong, critical and with deep roots.

These pieces use stitches and thread (as line and pen) to illustrate and speak out against colonialism, environment issues and the loss of Sami indigenous lands and ways of life and Sami traditions.

Embroidery is not the first medium you’d maybe think to use for protest art but that is actually where the power in it lies – it catches you unsuspecting through its beautiful and gentle crafting but presents a clear and dissenting message against unfair state management and offences against Sami populations.

Marakatt-Labba grew up in a Sámi administrative unit in Lainiovuoma, Finland and experienced racism and being treated at ‘other’ from a very young age. She has been embroidering these protest pieces with conviction for the last 40 years and we are only now finding her work in the wider world. I find that type of belief and unswerving commitment to ones own style and deep meaning to create, really inspiring.

In addition the work is exquisite – the use of materials is paired back to those that best represent the chosen theme so there is stitch, applique, screen printing, couching and cutwork but used only when it’s the best choice to do so and not as part of a cacophony of methods fighting for attention.

It switched me on to embroider better, use textile processes with more clarity, to become more knowledgable about past & present Sami culture and the impact of colonialism and to be happy staying in my lane creating my work as authentic to me with Britta Marakatt-Labba (now in the 70’s) as a role model.

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