- Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer by Barbara Sjoholm
Black Fox is a comprehensive biography of a rather unknown ethnographer, whose collaborative works with the Sámi, the Indigenous people of Northern Europe, have been a key resource for knowledge about the historical, political, and ideological contexts of Sápmi. Through notebooks, correspondence, drawings, and other materials left by Emilie Demant, Barbara Sjoholm accounts for the life and work of one of the first female ethnographers of Sámi culture in the early 1900s.
The volume is divided into three parts that describe various phases in Demant’s life and career. In the first section, “Nomad,” Sjoholm reconstructs Demant’s first journey to Sápmi and how it became a turning point in her life. A determining factor in becoming an ethnographer was Demant’s encounter with Johan Turi in 1904. The title of the biography reveals the prominent role of this Sámi author and storyteller in Demant’s life as well as in Sjoholm’s narration; Black Fox was the name Turi gave Demant as a sign of affection.
Turi introduced her to Sápmi and to his friends and relatives, providing Demant with contacts that remained valuable to her throughout her life and career. Demant supported and assisted Turi in writing his memoirs and other stories in Muitalus Sámiid birra (1910; An Account of the Sámi ), and it is due to their collaboration that Demant established herself as an ethnographer.
Sjoholm considers the academic and research contexts that played a significant role in Demant’s life in the second section of the volume, “Ethnographer.” Sjoholm approaches Demant’s work here in relation to the developing field of anthropology. Sjoholm discusses Demant’s contacts with other researchers, such as her husband, Gudmund Hatt; Franz Boas; and other academics from North America. Anthropology was only an emerging field in the US context when Emilie and Gudmund lived there in 1914. Sjoholm importantly notes that Demant conducted participant observation well before either Malinowski or Boas, through her early fieldwork in Sápmi. At a time when ethnography was shaped and dominated by men, contributions by female ethnographers like Demant were of major importance in order to provide descriptions of activities conducted by women that were not documented by male ethnographers and archivists. In Sjoholm’s words, Demant “broke the gender barrier” (p. 117) as one of the first female ethnographers.
The chapters in the third section, “Artist,” focus on Demant’s later contributions, for example, By the Fire (University of Minnesota Press, 1922), a collection of tales Demant recorded in various areas of Sápmi, and in which she included several of her own drawings as story illustrations. Later in her life, she shifted [End Page 110] her focus from scholarly writing to visual art. Her contacts with the Sámi, her experiences in Sápmi, and even her ethnographic notes took another form. It was her interest in Sápmi, its environment and people, that became central to her art. Instead of scholarly publications, Demant focused on “capturing and reinterpreting Sápmi in artistic form” (p. 284). She participated in various exhibitions, including a national retrospective of Danish women artists, events in Charlottenborg, the gallery of the Royal Danish Academy of Art, and other venues, although she never received recognition as a visual artist.
The final section of the book also accounts for the work of Demant after her fieldwork and collaborations in Sápmi. Her travels continued to be sources of inspiration in her art, for instance when she joined her husband on expeditions to New York, the US Virgin Islands, the Antilles, and Greenland.
Sjoholm’s writing is rich and detailed. She describes Demant’s experiences and encounters with people and places and how these influenced her to become an ethnographer, scholar, and artist. Sjoholm’s book also provides insights into aspects of Sámi culture...