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At home, as a tourist - notes from the Arctic


At home, as a tourist - notes from the Arctic

Maija Kovari



noun: homeland; plural noun: homelands

a person's or a people's native land.

synonyms: native land, native country, country of origin, home, fatherland, motherland, mother country, land of one's fathers, the old country. "he left his homeland to settle in London"

  • an autonomous or semi-autonomous state occupied by a particular people.

"they have been fighting for an independent homeland for nearly 30 years"

  • historical

    any of ten partially self-governing areas in South Africa designated for particular indigenous African peoples under the former policy of apartheid.

Unexplored areas of the Arctic, circa 1870

Current national borders at the Arctic

Like many millennials I travel a lot. Since few years, the first question I get abroad about my home country Finland, is about Lapland and nordic lights. "Have you seen them?" I’m always a bit embarrassed to say, no, I haven't, not really. My hometown in Southern Finland is farther from Lapland than Amsterdam is from Paris. My relationship to the Arctic has been somewhat that of the average international tourist’s: I’m sure it's beautiful but I have not gotten around to travelling there yet, maybe since I’m not that good at skiing. I’ve felt ashamed about this superficial attitude and not knowing my home country properly.

Photo of Aurora Borealis as seen from space, by NASA

Photo of Aurora Borealis as seen from space, by NASA

Suddenly the most peaceful part of Finland is where it all ties together, the center stage.

Perhaps partly out of this shame, my interest in the Arctic started to grow a few years ago. I started noticing news concerning the area. About natural minerals and mining rights; about how the climate change is affecting the traditional lifestyle and natural phenomena; about how more and more tourists from all over the world are finding Lapland an interesting tourist attraction. The Arctic started to seem like a symbolic site, merging and representing several global trends and challenges: the rise of the experience economy and tourism, global warming and shrinkage of natural resources, and the role of locality in identities in the 21st century - to name a few. Suddenly the most peaceful part of Finland is where it all ties together, the center stage.

Example of scenery in Northern Finland in winter. Photo: Tadeáš Gregor

From these perspectives, among others, I feel extremely privileged to be among the four artists working this year in collaboration with the University of Lapland and four local businesses involved in tourism, in a joint study project. Our job is to find ways to questions like: How could we use contemporary art in the local tourist attractions and the travel business in general in the Arctic, to support its growing popularity in travel in a way that is sustainable, genuine, sensitive towards local culture and nature - and of course, of high artistic quality. How, in practice, should collaboration between organisations and artists be organised and what should be taken into consideration in practical matters. In short: What could be the role of art, in travel, in the Arctic, in the future.

Example of scenery in Northern Finland in summer. Photo: Norppa

I, at once a tourist, a local, and a public art professional, start this journey with new friends and tingling with anticipation, hoping to find new approaches to thinking about the Arctic, Lapland, authenticity of place, art, home, tourism, and what it feels like to belong.

I’ll be writing about this journey along the way here, and at Facebook, and at the website o the university of Lapland, at


- Maija Kovari

Director, Public Art Agency Finland

Maija Kovari is trained as an architect MSc (Arch) and sculptor (B.F.A.). In addition to this project, she runs Public Art Agency Finland, a company specialised in advising cities in the use of art as part of urban planning and works as an independent artist in the areas of sculpture and installation. You'll find her artistic portfolio here.

Definition of homeland in the beginning of this article is by Google. Cover photo: Tadeáš Gregor