In Sámi spiritual knowledge, the goddesses of the home are the mothergoddess Máttaráhkká, and her three daughters: Saraahka, Uksáhkká and Juoksáhkká. They live among the people and have important tasks in relation to pregnancy, health and everyday life. Saraahka, is responsible for placing the child in the womb. She protects the female during pregnancy, including reindeers, and helps with childbirth and during calving. She is the guardian of the home, and lives in the fireplace. Ruota is by contrast an evil and dangerous spirit that can cause diseases (juotha), war, and catastrophe. For many, Ruota is “the devil himself”, or the evil creature (Rota, Rutu or Ruotta) who on most noaidi drums is depicted riding on a horse with a cross on the back. Ruota is also an epithet of Odin, one of the most important gods of Nordic mythology, as well as the North Sámi word for Sweden.
Sissel M. Bergh’s large painting Saraahka/Ruota, made on a sailing canvas, is a protest banner with two distinct sides: one that celebrates life with all its multitude and colours, in which all the living, including humans, feel and think with the earth, affirming the cycle of respect, protection, abundance and fertility. On the other side of the banner she objects to, and invites us—viewers and fellow inhabitants of mother earth—to resist, oppose, and fight the devastation and destruction that extractive practices for runaway consumption have created, spreading death and disease to all the living.
In Sissel M. Bergh’s work, historical research is both contested and pursued with the help of artistic methods. By adopting the tools of cartography and linguistics, she tracks, traces, and explores denied and forgotten relationships between landscape, ancestral knowledge, language, histories, and place names, using South Sámi and Norwegian languages as points of departure. Her series of drawings Åalan Gorrijh Gujne (Under the Protection of the Spawning Lady), can be seen as research notes and speculative mappings of the relation of the coastal cod fish, mostly known as Mådtj, with certain cave and rock formations in the island of Tarva, whose soils are rich in turf and minerals, and with the Sámi word Maadth, from which other words like ancestor, root, and origin are etymologically related.
Sissel M. Bergh (b. 1974 in Trondheim, Norway) is a Trondheim-based visual artist and researcher working in different techniques and materials, applied in relation to different knowledge systems. With the use of film, objects, paintings, drawings, and mapmaking as tools, Bergh examines the way the world is understood, through reinterpreting land, memory, power, language and the history of representations, with a particular focus on the South Sámi region. She received her education from Oslo National Academy of Fine Arts and University of Technology, Durban. Her most recent exhibitions have been at Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art – GIBCA (2019), Telemark kunstsenter, Skien (2019), Sámi Center of Contemporary Art/Sámi Dáiddáguovdas (2018), and Kunsthall Trondheim (2017).