Kine Kjær
Kine Yvonne Kjær in front of selfmade painting
©Mats Gangvik

Sami cool

Kine Yvonne Kjær, 34, is an artist, musician, designer, illustrator and proud Sami. She loves the fact that people from all over the world come to Northern Norway to learn more about Sami culture.

Text: Berit Høisen. Photo: Mats Gangvik

- I’m glad that Sami culture has become so popular with tourists visiting Tromsø. It often takes someone coming from outside to confirm the value of something. Historically, it has not always been that easy being a Sami. It is therefore fantastic that visitors are realising how beautiful our culture is. I’m glad they’re taking pictures and sharing them with the world, says Kine.

The multi-medium artist originally comes from Trollvik in Finnsnes but moved to Tromsø as a 16-year-old to go to school. Growing up, she had no idea she had Sami roots.

We learned incredibly little about Sami culture in school 

- I really didn’t know any Sami people growing up. My parents had no connection to it either, says Kine.

It was not until she was a teenager that Kine had her first real life encounter with the Sami culture. A Sami girl moved to her home town to go to school.

- We had Sami radio and children TV in Sami, but hearing someone speak the Sami language «live» in everyday life for the first time was so nice. It awoke my curiosity, says Kine.

She had noticed that everyone in her family had high cheekbones in family photos.

- You can see that there are some indigenous genes to be found there, says Kine, smiling.

Searching for roots

Kine started to ask family members where these came from and eventually found out she has Sami roots from Sweden and Finland on both her mother’s and her father’s side. That is how she discovered her Sami family heritage.

After school she moved to Australia to study photography, art and music technology. It was here the need to find her roots grew. When she was given an assignment to create a series of linocut prints about everyday life at home, she chose to focus on what she felt was missing from her everyday life. Northern Norway and the Sami were included in the project and, in that way, she opened herself up to her unknown cultural heritage.

When Kine returned back home, the process of embracing her Sami identity started in earnest. She had her first ‘gákti’ outer garment made, which she wore for the first time on 17 May, Norway’s National Day. Kine is the first person in her family for several generations to wear the Sami gákti.

- Getting my first gákti was a very big deal. Putting it on for the first time was both exciting and scary. I chose a white one because after all I was a ‘gákti virgin’. I got to choose the colours myself, so I chose white for the white mountains in Senja, turquoise for the Northern Lights, and red and orange for the midnight sun. A small homage to everything at home. I’m very fond of that gákti.

Today, being a Sami is a large part of Kine’s identity and she loves wearing her gákti on days like the Sami National Day which is celebrated on 6 February each year. Kine says that people smile to her and some stop to wish her well for the day.

- That sort of thing makes me happy. After all, the Sami culture used to be taboo and there was a lot of shame associated with it, but the last generation has turned this around. Today’s generation has largely reclaimed their Sami identity and carry it with pride.

Girl power

Kine is a creative soul. She likes to promote Sami culture and ‘girl power’ in her work. She takes various jobs involving illustration, decoration and graphic design through the company Veggpryd. She also sings and plays the guitar in two different girl bands: Robaat and Bitches Brew.

- The aim of the Bitches Brew project is to show that women can play instruments and do it damn well. Our goal is to inspire young girls to pick up an instrument and play. You need a bit of girl power!

Kine also volunteers in a handbag design project for the company WayaWaya – a Norwegian brand that produces high-fashion handbags. The company’s mission is to create opportunities for vulnerable women through sustainable jobs. The handbags are made by women in Livingstone, Zambia. The partnership started with Kine and Robaat acting as ambassadors for the brand by playing pop-up shows at which the bags were promoted. Kine is now helping to design a collection of handbags with a combination of Zambian and Sami patterns.

- The bags bear a pattern inspired by Norwegian rose paintings, the pointed shapes of Sami decoration and the interlaced patterns of both Zambia and Sami culture. The bags are made in the three colours both flags share, as well as the red found in the Sami flag. The Zambian women take part in the design process and have good working conditions. They are well paid and have the chance to start night school. Half of the income from sales of the handbags go to the women that stitch them. The remainder goes to buying in materials to make new bags, explains Kine, who volunteers on the project.

In May 2017, Kine travelled to Zambia to meet the women who stitch the bags, see how they are produced, and take part in the design process. The experience made a strong impression.

- This is a project I’m really enthusiastic about and I hope it grows much larger. It has become very close to my heart. During the visit to Zambia I taught the Zambian women Sami chanting. They also gave me a Zambian name ‘Tabo’, which means joy, finishes Kine.

Edit: This article was first written for the Tromsø Guide 2018/1019. Kine, now 36, is still working with Iris Helén Nikolaisen i WayaWaya, and just spent 3 months as a volunteer in Zambia developing their 2nd collection coming in 2020. The focus is still the same, and every woman working for WayaWaya gets economic support for 16 people in and close to her family. The ladies working with WayaWaya also has 22 children (all together), that receives schooling.

- I wish more focus on slow fashion, and that we choose quality over quantity when we shop.

Kine is now in Thailand, and expresses her continuous passion for illustrating strong women, and has started a series of illustrations called “I AM MORE THAN MILK”. With this she hopes to inspire women of all ages to follow their dreams, no matter how big they are.

- Women has a power and will that deserves to be highlighted.