Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research (Apr 2019)

Memory-Making in Kiruna - Representations of Colonial Pioneerism in the Transformation of a Scandinavian Mining Town

  • Johanna Overud

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 1


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This article considers colonial rhetoric manifested in representations of early settlement in the mining town of Kiruna in northernmost Sweden. Kiruna was founded more than 100 years ago by the LKAB Company with its centre the prosperous mine on Sami land. Continued iron ore mining has made it necessary to relocate the town centre a few kilometres north-east of its original location to ensure the safety of the people. The ongoing process of the town’s transformation due to industrial expansion has given rise to the creation of a memorial park between the town and the mine, in which two historical photographs have been erected on huge concrete blocks. For the Swedish Sami, the indigenous people, the transformation means further exploitation of their reindeer grazing lands and forced adaption to industrial expansion. The historical photographs in the memorial park fit into narratives of colonial expansion and exploration that represent the town’s colonial past. Both pictures are connected to colonial, racialised and gendered space during the early days of industrial colonialism. The context has been set by discussions about what Kiruna “is”, and how it originated. My aim is to study the role of collective memory in mediating a colonial past, by exploring the representations that are connected to and evoked by these pictures. In this progressive transformation of the town, what do these photographic memorials represent in relation to space? What are the values made visible in these photographs? I also discuss the ways in which Kiruna’s history becomes manifested in the town’s transformation and the use of history in urban planning. I argue that, in addressing the colonial history of Kiruna, it is timely to reconsider how memories of a town are communicated into the future by references to the past. I also claim that memory, history, and remembrance and forgetting are represented in this process of history-making and that they intersect gender, class and ethnicity.