Jessie Kleemann, performance still In Aron from Kangeq and a painting from Aron from Kangeq, Tupilak.
Aron from Kangeq was bedridden with tuberculosis and began depicting Greenlandic folktales, history and daily life in the mid-1800s, and he was soon ‘discovered’ by Danish researcher H.J. Rink, who encouraged him to start painting the same scenes, and they were accompanied by narrations of the stories. Most of his works were brought from Greenland, kept and forgotten in the Royal Archives, until a few years after Home Rule they were returned.
I am not sure if the painting shows the ‘creation’ of a tupilaq (an object that would be charged and given power to destroy an enemy) or of the tupilaq taking form of a walrus to kill its victim. There are a lot of Greenlandic stories that involve a person needing to be eaten by a wild animal to enter a different plane (one story of how to become a shaman says you must be eaten by a dog that is covered in anuses. The Mother of the Sea story says the old woman must be eaten by a polar bear and a walrus to reach the sea floor and clean the Mother of the Sea so that she will let people hunt the sea animals).
Obviously this is not the scene Jessie is depicting in her performance, which shows a shamanistic drum dance (opposed to the communal game or legal sorts that are more ‘appropriate’). Jessie’s work has many sides to it: the initial ‘meaning’ is she is resurrecting an image of life in Greenland produced when colonialism intruded little into the lives of Greenlanders, and reflective of years of tradition and social norms existing long before Western contact (nudity was much more common and accepted throughout daily life, for one thing). But she also challenges this image of the ‘free native woman’ that is quite romantic to liberal Westerners. She is a mighty archetype with no identity, and she is a means for those on the anti-colonialism side of the West to continue to make Greenlanders foreign in their own country, because most can not live up to the model. And then it is still the West which sets the models. So even in an image that would be arguably ‘pure’ - an Inuk woman reenacting a precolonial way of life - it is seen through the many layers of colonial misinformation from the Danish collectors of Aron fra Kangeq’s ‘exotic native’ paintings, to the liberal Western yearning for a ‘return’ to ‘native’ life, where ‘native’ is only ever defined by its opposition to the West.