Joar Nango

Artist Spotlight: Sámi artist and architect Joar Nango celebrates improvisation as intervention.

ch’i cha jų̃ kwa’ch’e Ch’i cha jų̃ kwa’ch’e Indigenous Sovereignty
Structures installed in a red-dirt courtyard in Athens: a large metal “E” lying on the ground in the centre, a conical structure of branches at left, and a fabric-covered lean-to tent at right.

Joar Nango is a Sámi architect and artist whose work engages installation, performance and various modes of collaboration to question architectural histories, resurface the innovations of Indigenous architectures and subvert the centrality of European building practices in Sápmi and other Indigenous territories throughout the circumpolar North.

Based in Tromsø, Norway and trained at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, the Bergen School of Architecture and the Weissensee Kunsthochschule in Berlin, Nango’s architectural practice is also informed by the improvisational architectures of semi-nomadic Sámi reindeer herders (a traditional trade in Nango’s family) and the myriad adaptative, resilient, DIY architectural techniques that characterize Northern communities’ approach to living in a harsh and shifting climate.

Structures installed in a red-dirt courtyard in Athens: a large metal “E” lying on the ground in the centre, a conical structure of branches at left, and a fabric-covered lean-to tent at right.
Joar Nango, European Everything (2017). COURTESY THE ARTIST.

An interest in documenting, reviving and honouring both these more contemporary improvisational structures and traditional Sámi architectures is evident in Nango’s ongoing project Girjegumpi (2018), a nomadic sculptural-architectural platform and library of materials on Sámi architecture, postcolonial theory, and Indigenous architectures more broadly. The work was first shown at the Arctic Arts Festival in Harstad, Norway, and also been exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada, the winter market in Jokkmokk, the Bergen International Festival and as a digital version during The World Around Summit 2021. Though iterative, mobile and designed to travel, its home base is the Sámi Center for Contemporary Art in Karasjok. 

In his 2017 project for documenta 14, European Everything, Nango constructed a set of structures and sites—using materials such as reindeer hides and meat, birch trees, discarded neon and chairs from the streets of Athens, and metal from a local scrapyard—designed to interrogate the primacy of European architectural traditions. Transporting materials from his own territories, involving local refugees in the installation’s construction and inviting collaboration in the form of performances, DJ sets, and experimental theatre by other Indigenous, Nango’s work asked: How has European identity been constituted, enforced, and imposed through borders and the built environment? How can Indigenous DIY practices of improvisation, self-sufficiency, reuse and resourcefulness intervene both on the European built environment, and its cultural codes?

Nango’s prolific work also includes the ongoing collaborative project (with Ken Bongo), Post-Capitalist Architecture TV—a digital TV miniseries that follows Nango across Sápmi in a cargo van retrofitted as a living and screening space to explore the potential of Indigenous architecture after the fall of capitalism—which has screened in galleries and festivals internationally. Nango was one of the Toronto Biennial of Art artists in residence in 2021, and will produce a site-specific work for the Biennial in 2022. He has also been announced as one of the  artists for the inaugural exhibition in the Light Hall of Norway’s new National Museum, opening in June 2022.

Credit: This video was originally published by the Art Ii Biennial on August 17, 2016. Courtesy Art Ii Biennial.