- Nation: Saami
By Lizzie Davey
Creating art is a lifestyle for Fredrik Prost rather than a career. His pieces are a reflection of daily life, picking out the nuances of Saami culture in a fine example of art imitating life and life imitating art. But it is not just his own daily life that Prost immortalises through his pieces, it is the life of his ancient ancestors; Saami peoples who have cemented traditions over thousands of years and who have realised and passed culture down through generation after generation.
Prost’s work is a collective display of Saami life in many senses, something that is key to Saami peoples in general. Living together in harmony, working together, and ensuring age-old traditions live on is a prominent part of being Saami. “I tend to always live with my work,” says Prost, who goes on to say that creating art certainly doesn’t feel like work. For many artists like Prost, producing artwork using traditional materials and techniques is the perfect way to pass on Saami culture.
Prost himself grew up in Kiruna, Sweden. At 15 he learned how to create traditional Saami handicrafts from an elder in the village and realised how raw materials and ancient processes could connect the present-day Saami population with those from the past. Learning the “craft” was a way to pay homage to his ancestral lands and, more closely to home, to his own line of heritage.
Later, when Prost was 21, he enrolled at the Saami School of Traditional Handicrafts in Jokkmokk, where he learned the finer details of traditional handicrafts and found his own “voice” in the medium. For as long as Prost can remember he was drawn towards creative living and an inspired way of life, and the tight connection between history, tradition, and handicraft sealed the deal for him when it came to deciding a direction to take in life.
You only have to look at Prost’s pieces to know that he takes great pride in his work, which combines traditional techniques with his own style and some modern elements thrown in. The detail that goes into his carved knives and bowls is phenomenal, a modern twist on the utilitarian handicrafts that feature greatly in Saami history. For Prost it is all about combining practicality and beauty, something that has been passed down from the ancient lines of Saami heritage.
The materials Prost uses form an important part of his culture, too. Wood and antler are his go-to materials which he gathers himself from the natural areas surrounding his home. “Tradition and rooting in the culture is important to me,” he says, highlighting that the process of creating his pieces is much the same as those used thousands of years ago.
It is not just artistic processes that connect Prost with his ancient ancestors though. When working with reindeer, hunting and fishing, he is drawing on thousands of years of history. In his spare time Prost likes to be outside in nature, exploring the impressive landscapes that surround his home. Being Saami to Prost means having a relationship with nature and tapping into the earth and its resources the way that Saami peoples have since the beginning of time.
It is when he is at one with nature that Prost finds his best inspiration. From the wild animals that roam the scenery to the centuries-old trees and the barren landscape that comes with being part of the Saami population. Saami believe that humans and nature go hand in hand, that they are both a product of the other, and Prost finds this influence in much of his work. “My themes are inspired by our traditional worldview and religion,” he says, which is something he feels connected to when he is creating.
Prost’s pieces have been exhibited in numerous collaborative and private exhibitions over the years, but still he remains grounded thanks to his link with Saami culture. He’s even surprised by how skilled and innovative his ancestors were when it came to creating art with the materials they had on offer and the processes they had learned from elders.
It is easy to see now why Prost considers art a lifestyle rather than a career choice. To him, and to many Saami artists, it is a way to reach out and celebrate their ancestors and to keep the age-old traditions going for centuries to come. But what about the present day? What does an average day look like for Prost? Extremely varied, he says, where one day he might be out in the woods collecting material straight from the land and the next he might be holed up in his workshop engraving or sanding.
For Prost, the average day looks much like the average day of his Saami forefathers in a fine example of traditions, culture, and heritage living on through the medium of art – the reason that inspired Prost to enter the industry in the first place.