In this project, we take a critical perspective on design practice, looking the globalising and colonising impact of design. We explore ideas of self and other through the connections formed when differing cultures meet. Collaborating with Sámi communities (the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia) we shared stories and experiences to learn from our similarities and differences.


An interactive exhibit, titled ‘Hi/stories of Change’, at Västerbottens Museum in Umeå. Based on our experiences and learnings, the exhibit aimed to challenge ideas of identity and shift perspectives: seeing ‘weness’ instead of otherness.

Group project (2018, completed over 5 weeks) at the Umeå Institute of Design, in collaboration with the Swedish Sami National Organisation and the Sami Handicraft Organisation.

Research Team: Maja Björkqvist, Minh Huy Dang, Yijia Tao

Exhibition Team: Iris Ritsma, Yijia Tao

1. Experience

Travelling north to live and learn with the Sámi community in Jokkmokk. A trip fuelled by introspection and curiosity, asking the question: what happens when two communities look into each others curious eyes?

2. Reflect

Digesting experiences from our field trip into compelling anecdotes, looking for stories that elicit introspection on the self and on systems of oppression. Subverting the typical research methods of searching for learnings or insights, we sought out provocations.

3. Share

Inviting others into our journey through an interactive exhibition, titled: ‘Do You Know Yourself?’ Aiming to provoke reflection on the self and the other to reveal the complexity of privilege and its relationship with identity.

What happens when two communities look into each others curious eyes?

A question of identity. Our exhibit centred around this

Finding Meaning

A question of identity. Our exhibit centred around this

Do you know yourself?

A question of identity. Our exhibit centred around this

Here you can read our stories, as displayed at the exhibition.

Preserving Heritage Through Clothing
We spoke with a handicraft student about the regulation of traditions in clothing. I’m impressed by how well they have preserved strict traditions until now. At the same time, I’m jealous about their efforts and persistence, because my own culture has gotten lost. I reflect on what I can do to protect and develop our cultural clothing in China.

Do you have your own traditional clothing at home?

The Grandma Check
Some students at the handicraft school told us how, if they were dancing with or dating someone new, they would call their grandma to check if the person was family or not.

Do you know your family tree?

Taken and Put on Display
Lisa’s grandmother used to own many silver brooches, handmade pieces of jewelry that are as symbolic as their clothing. One day, a local policeman forced her to sell him the silver for very cheap. For many years, these valuable possessions were lost from the family. Now, some of the brooches are on display in the Sami museum, so Lisa visits to reflect on her heritage.

Have you ever had something taken away by the police?

Crafting Identities
Students working with textiles at the Sami handicraft school add small modern elements to the traditional clothing they make. This personal expression could be a floral pattern, a tweak of convention, or an extra detail. They told us it is important, however, to retain the traditional style and techniques.

Are you able to express your identity through what you wear?

Guerrilla Herding: forced to live on the blacklist
One Jokkmokk family had their herding rights taken away in the 80s, with the government displacing them with a enormous fence. They continued herding, however, despite their family name being on the blacklist. This ‘guerilla’ reindeer herding meant they were rejected by the local Sami community for many years.

Have you ever felt rejected because you were following your own culture?

'True' Language
Language brings belonging: a sense of self and identity. Many Sami cannot write or speak Sami. Those who do not speak Sami told us they wouldn’t be treated as a ‘true’ Sami by older generations. They avoid talking about their identity. This makes me reflect on my identity & culture. I feel a sense of shame because I can’t speak my local dialect. In areas where they do speak my dialect, I feel excluded.

Is your identity defined by your mother tongue?

Burning Away the Burden of the Past
After years of being told he should be ashamed of his background, Alec started believing that passing on the culture would be a burden. Near his deathbed he burned everything that he owned that related to his Sami background, so he would not pass on this ‘burden’ to his children and grandchildren. It was only at his death bed that he started speaking Sami again.

Is culture passed on in your family?

The Silence of Painful Histories
For one of the handicraft students grandmother, it is too painful to talk about her history. She does not want to tell her grandchildren about it.

Do you have something that you don’t want to talk about?

Defending your Families Fights for Generations
One Jokkmokk’s family has been fighting for their rights of reindeer herding for 3 generations. The son is an art activist, creating political conversations through his work. He plans to pass down this mission to his son, telling us: “If you have nothing to lose, you can only keep fighting.”

Are you fighting the same battles your grandparents fought?