Helander´s recent photographic work has focused on the northern landscape, portraying dark views without people. For several years, Marja Helander has been taking photographs in Sápmi, exploring the link between the mining industry and today’s standard of living and culture of consumption, and in particular, the impact of mining on the sensitive northern environment. Subjects include the nickel mine in the Kola Peninsula which manufactures stainless steel, computer hard drives, and mobile phone batteries. Similarly, apatite mined in the Khibiny Mountains is processed to produce phosphate fertilizers for farmers. In her art, Helander emphasizes the dependence between people and nature.
In addition to landscapes, Helander’s work also includes images of humans who take the form of animals, thus identifying with old Sámi beliefs and world views: “I want to highlight the corporeality of people and how humans are just one animal species among many, dependent on nature, ecosystems, and land. We are part of the cyclicity of nature; a pile of particles and molecules.”
On the other hand, video artworks by Helander are playful, exploring the contradiction between the traditional Sámi way of life and modern society, and focusing on old stories from her Sámi relatives. Her recent short film Birds in the Earth won the Risto Jarva Prize in Tampere Film Festival 2018 and the Kent Monkman Award for Best Experimental Work at ImagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, 2018. It was also part of the Sundance Film Festival 2019 short film competition.
Marja Helander has presented works in solo and group exhibitions both in Finland and abroad, with many shows in Scandinavia. Various public art collections in Finland and abroad have acquired her artworks, for example Kiasma, The State of Finland, Finnish Museum of Photography, National Gallery of Canada, Public Art Norway (KORO), Nordiska Museet in Stockholm, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseumi in Tromsø, Sámi Museum Siida, De Samiske Samlinger and Stadtgalerie Kiel.
Helander has also made a public artwork So Everything Flourishes for the Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos, in Inari, Finland. Her new public video work with Mauri Lähdesmäki will be part of the permanent exhibition shown in the Sámi Museum Siida in Inari.
Helander is considered as one the leading artists in Finland. She has won the Artists’ Association of Finland ́s Fine Art Prize (2018) and was awarded the Finland Prize by The Ministry of Education and Culture (2019). She was also awarded the Pro Finlandia medal in 2021.