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Copyright Tomas Colbengston

Who is Tomas Colbengston, winner of art's most prestigious print award?

By Jonny Walfisz
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The Sámi artist is the latest recipient of The Queen Sonja Print Award, the world’s most important prize for printmaking.


Tomas Colbengston was presented with the honour by Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway last week in Bodø. It was part of a ceremony that also saw celebrated artist Anselm Kiefer receive the Queen Sonja Lifetime Achievement Award and Swedish artist Maria Kayo Mpoyi get the QSPA Inspirational Award.

The Queen Sonja Print Award is unique in enjoying the patronage of a member of the Royal Family, who is also an acclaimed artist. It is presented every two years to an outstanding, often young, artist who has excelled in the field of printmaking.

Artists from all over the world are nominated by a wide range of international professionals, curators, artists and art institutions.

“I am delighted that this year the award has gone to a Sami artist. Tomas Colbengtson’s work is already represented in museum collections and I hope this prize will make his work known even more widely internationally,” Queen Sonja said.

Maria Kayo Mpoyi, Tomas Colbengtson, Anselm Kiefer, Queen Sonja of Norway. Queen Sonja Print Award
Maria Kayo Mpoyi, Tomas Colbengtson, Anselm Kiefer, Queen Sonja of Norway. Queen Sonja Print AwardPer-Inge Johnsen/

For Colbengston, the award is a watershed moment in a long career as one of the world’s most influential Sámi artists, the indigenous people from the northern region of Europe.

Colbengston was born in 1957 in Björkvattnet, a village at the northern reaches of Sweden and in touching distance of the Arctic Circle. His career in art kicked off in 1991 and has dedicated his work to the interrogation of colonialism and its impact on the Sámi peoples.

Part of Colbengston's Bodø exhibition
Part of Colbengston's Bodø exhibitionTomas Colbengston

Between 1998 and 2008, Colbengston was a resident artist at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Since then, he has exhibited his work in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Greenland, USA, Canada, Russia, Brasil, Germany, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Holland, France, Spain, Egypt, Austria, Swiss, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Canada and Japan.

Noeitje-sami Shaman
Noeitje-sami ShamanTomas Colbengston

On winning the Queen Sonja Print Award, Colbengston tells Euronews Culture that he “felt very honoured” and that it “felt like I was at a Nobel Prize ceremony for art in Bodø.”

“I am especially grateful and happy because I am Sámi and I feel I represent the people without voices,” the artist says.

Colbengston most recently created the installation ‘InBetween Colonisation’ that was presented at Bodø ahead of the prize-giving ceremony.

Colbengston's work in Bodø
Colbengston's work in BodøTomas Colbengston

Bodø itself is a unique city, the European Capital of Culture is within the Arctic Circle in Norway’s Nordland County. The city’s territory is shared by the Lule Sámi and the Pite Sámi, who call the city Bådåddjo and Buvvda respectively.

As a city still enmeshed with Sámi culture, it was the perfect host for Colbengston’s exhibition and subsequent award ceremony. In his works, Colbengston highlights Sámi culture reflected against either the landscape or the interior of the exhibition space, alluding to both their permanence and erasure.

Also pictured is Colbengston’s 2019 work ‘Tsïgle-Pathfinder’. This was installed on a mountain in Saxnäs, Sweden. Once again the forgotten Sámi are visualised through the visual signifiers of reindeer antlers that also point out the directions for thousand-year-old Sámi walking trails.

Tsïgle-PathfinderNils Agdler/2022 Nils Agdler & Tomas Colbengtson

“‘Tsïgle’ also points to the forbidden Sámi offering religion where Sámi gave offerings to the gods on white stones or other nature formations,” Colbengston explains. However, this religious practice was “banned by death punishment by the Lutheran Church in Sweden and Norway,” he says.

Tsïgle-PathfinderTomas Colbengston

“My intention with ‘Tsïgle’ is that hikers passing the cairn can put some memorial object in-between the stones in the cairn as an incantation to be able to return someday."

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