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Eatnanvuloš Lottit – Maan sisällä linnut/ Birds in the Earth

Art Initiative is screening Eatnanvuloš Lottit – Maan sisällä linnut/Birds in the Earth by the Finnish artist Marja Helander on the big screen in the atrium during January and part of February 2024.


Birds in the Earth is a short film by the Finnish artist Marja Helander. It is based on dance and examines cultural identity and the ownership of Sápmi. The main characters are the two ballet students with Sámi background - Birgit and Katja Haarla - and the beautiful Northern landscape.

In the film we follow two ballerinas as they glide through the landscape and eventually arrive at the Parliament in Helsinki. Without dialogue Helander’s film raises the voices of the Indigenous Sámi peoples yearning for land rights in Sápmi – a land crossing the northern regions of Finland, Russia, Sweden and Norway. The film juxtaposes Western and Indigenous sounds and images, using the singing tradition of yoik and using both traditional ballet cloths and the Sámi garments known as gákti. Indigenous signifiers and myths confront Western meaning-making, especially the tourism industry in Finland.

Ballet is the quintennial European dance form. The dance performed in the video is The Dying Swann - originally performed by the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in Saint Petersburg in 1905 as a solo dance. In 1905, Finland was under Russian rule. After Finnish independence from Russia in 1917, Finland claimed the white swan, specifically the whooper swan, as its national bird. The whooper swan only breeds in the wetlands of Sápmi, and is a threatened species. As such, the ballet may just as well symbolise Sámi identity in the film.

Birds in the Earth won the Risto Jarva Prize and the main prize of the National Competition at Tampere Film Festival. The film also won prizes at NATIVE Film+Media Arts Festival in Toronto and Norwegian Short Film Festival. Maja Helander, born 1965 in Helsinki, Finland, is a photographer, visual artist and filmmaker educated at Lahti Institute of Fine Arts, University of Arts and Design in Helsinki and the Sámi Education Institute. Helander's mother is Finnish and her father is Sámi. She is also represented in the exhibition Arctic Highway - travelling the world between 2022 and 2025.

Music in the video by: Tapani Rinne, Wimme Saari, Elle Sofe Henriksen, Konsta Mikkonen, Tuomas Norvio. To listen to the soundtrack: download the app Listen Everywhere.