Katarina Pirak Sikku is a visual artist of Saami heritage, who holds a MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts at Umeå University (2005). Her photography, drawings, installations, and text-based work draw from both immediate family history as well as historical facts that have had an impact on her personal life. Sikku’s approach to traditional representation often makes use of subtle displacements, which upsets the logic that organizes established customs. Mourning and grief are some of the emotions invoked by her work, but also humor and a tremendous amount of generosity. She strives for a combined reflection of the political and social arenas as well as the private and public realms of experience.
This photo is taken from Katarina Pirak Sikku’s installation on eugenics and racial biology titled “Dollet” (Grasp). She describes the project as follows:
In the past, Sweden was a pioneering country regarding eugenics and racial biology. A fact, which has had reverberations into present time. Many prominent Swedes cherished the advocates of the race questions. The Swedish State Institute for Racial Biology was established in 1922. It was a climax for its supporters and marked the beginning of years of violation of and offences against the Sámi people in particular. Racial biology turned into segregational politics with a system of institutional racism, sometimes difficult to identify. This is where we are now. Our close relatives were present when the white men entered our bedrooms with their measuring instruments and photography equipment. The domination is no further away than that. Just knowing that I can get facts about my relatives from sources about racial biology hurts. Knowing that my predecessors were stripped naked to be photographed and documented for the future hurts. To visit a museum and see my family heirlooms on display for the public hurts. Yes, they are robbed and dishonored.
When I leaf through the material on racial biology, I am appalled by my emotions. Fascination? I meet the gaze of the portrayed. The eyes of a boy look at me with suspicion. A stripped elderly man looks into the camera with a look of ‘If they want to see the arse of an old Lapp, I have to let them.’ I look at the richness of detail in the costumes. The images are beautiful and seductive, which frightens me. When I touch the material where the naked images are, I feel uncomfortable since many try to hide their naked bodies with a slouched posture. I know my questions will never be answered, but I still want to try to understand. How did it feel for the ones who were exposed? Was it regarded a violation? I also ask myself: Is it a violation now? Can I picture myself in that vulnerable position? Do memories in a map have any legitimate value in a judicial state? How are the memories of my culture accounted for? Am I just a visitor without legal rights, visiting a people also without legal rights, history, or country? To be questioned, am I, or am I not, a Sámi? Do memories have any value at all? I want to construct my own maps to establish my self-evident right to exist on the same grounds as everybody else. The maps consist of memories, tales, and narratives. These maps will never be any good as evidence in a judicial process about who has the right to own the land. Memories leave no obvious or readable traces in nature. But my memories are my memories. Nobody can change that.
Posts tagged Colonialism.
It is taking decades for Canada to come to terms with its history in the Arctic, and with its relationship to all its indigenous people. “Kikkik” is the story of government mistakes and neglect, of starvation, murder, freezing death, but, in the end, a kind of justice that helps restore our faith in human decency. In 1958, the Inuit woman Kikkik was charged with murder and criminal negligence leading to the death of her child. Her trial and our visit back to the place and to Kikkik’s children confront us with a legacy that’s still a challenge for Canada.
52 Minutes of important history.
Pia Arke. Photographs in the same vein as this. The photos on the left and right are two very famous ethnographic portraits of East Greenlanders, they have all of the distinctive features of the ‘wild’ East known to West Greenlanders: a bone in the woman’s hair, her bare breasts, the man’s harness. The East was very cut off from the West and from outsiders in general. For long periods exchange between the coasts was impossible, the East suffered much harsher weather and hunger, and when the missions came to the West to convert and pushed families into permanent settlements, the East stayed much more as it had been. As West Greenlandic society was invaded by European morals and lifestyles, the constant migratory hunting lifestyle became mysterious and foreign within the rest of the country. Today, of course, it is much like the rest of Greenland, grounded in settlements with few people going on the land for longer than a month or two. However scarcity is still stronger there because of its remoteness and because so many left or were moved to the West to be baptized, attend schools, etc. And every few years claims of people encountering “ureskimoer” - people living in seclusion on the land, in ‘traditional’ ways - in the East come up, like very recently (not that the article gives actual information or accounts).
So Pia counters this exotic notion by placing in the middle her own photograph of a young modern East Greenlander, like a trinity. Pia comes from Ittoqqortoormiit, much more northerly and far removed than Tasiilaq where the two other photos come from. Yet the only telling ‘Greenlandic’ element of the girls appearance (besides visible ethnicity) are her kamiks, which are very similar still to ones worn in the West. Where the expressions in the two photographs of an ‘exotic’ indigenous group tell the story of the dichotomy between subject and photographer alone - forced, to say the least - Pia’s portrait reaches out, on common ground with photographer and viewer, as well. This is completely opposed to what the first photographer sought to do, to convey foreignness, even barbarism above humanity, reflecting his own ignorance and opposition to learning. But when joined with Pia’s photo they seem to lose that, they draw from the girl’s openness and the past, with its own culture different than the West, aligns with the present.
Peter Jensen, Fall 2009 RTW. Inspired by his aunt Jytte, the 70s, and Greenland.
“We are not against getting inspiration from the national costume. However we find him directly imitating a part of the costume difficult to accept. It has nothing to do with innovation.” - Sermitsiaq 2009, via Grønlandsk samtidskunst - rekonstruktion af grønlandske identiteter, Monica Amos Hogrefe Nielsen, translation mine.
When this collection came out it caused outrage in Greenland, some of which became excessive (death threats and such). Still this is a problematic collection. The direct imitation refered to is the design of the boots, drawn from formal kamik boots, a part of the national costume, which you can see in the bottom image here, and some more everyday ones here. Also questionable are the beading details around the neck and shawls not shown here, which draw more distantly from the nationalcostume as well.
However the most problematic element is the story Peter Jensen spins of his aunt wearing miniskirts in the Greenlandic winter, but still relating “the Danish government pad for me to go to Greenland and the Faroe Islands to research.” Faroe Islands and Greenland are both Denmark’s outlying dominions, but have very divergent cultures: Greenland being predominantly Inuit, indigenous, and Faroe Islands being distinctly Nordic. Although they are commonly, oddly equated in Denmark’s historic treatment of both areas, it seems troublesome that a creative person would claim an ‘inspiration’ from only one region, but also directly imitate the other - the hats seen here draw directly from the Faroese men’s national costume.
Nielsen and Sermitsiaq argue that “more modern women” don’t have a problem with this kind of derivation. She also interprets the shawls to be reminiscent of fishing nets, reflecting Faroe Islands’ and Greenland’s shared fishing culture (although historically nets were not very common in Greenland), which does genuinely sound like a creative interpretation, who knows if that was Peter Jensen’s intent. I think I would like this collection were it not for the boots, hats and beading seen in the middle two here. And indeed, the beaded and floral fabric elements of the current Greenlandic women’s costume are reflective of colonial Danish trade, so some could argue they are not ‘purely Greenlandic’ at all. However, today when there are few national symbols left for Greenlanders and Inuit it seems to me more important to protect these and keep them sacred.
But as I said, what is most offensive is that Peter Jensen is trying to claim some indirect right to these symbols by calling up his Danish-Greenlandic aunt - she may not even have been Greenlandic, there is no indication she lived there more than a few years. If he had started by saying he received a study grant to travel to Greenland and Faroe Islands I might have more respect. But then for these national symbols to be mass-produced and marketed to girls ignorant of their origin, under the guise that he is referencing his aunt’s life first, I do not think they can be excused. And if he has so much respect for Greenlandic culture (in his statement for the collection, I remember reading something to the effect of how warmly “the Greenlanders” welcomed him, which is a sentiment repeated constantly as an excuse for Westerners to take from indigenous folk), why not have master kamik-makers or Greenlandic seamstresses work on this collection alongside him? Because then he could not do what he wishes with these symbols, make them friendly and commercial, for those who abuse their cultural significance for fashion.
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.
Agitator, Liv Bugge. Liv’s body of work discusses morbid themes in persisting, postcolonial racism. Take a look at some of her other works.
The wind often blows
from different directions
Each has its special power
and each its strange whims
But mostly it blows from the south
and it has been strong lately
It can be extremely cold
or sometimes warm and irritating
Some call upon it
Some have the strength to resist
Others give in
and they are many
For too long we have turned our backs against it
For too long we have bowed down in respect
For too long we have treated the wind
with a dignity
it does not deserve.
GUYS WHAT IF GREENLAND WAS DENMARK
This is the second time I have reblogged this, begging people to credit artists, and so the third time I posted it. So again. This is by Inuk Silis Høegh as part of his performance and installation Melting Barricades (you need to understand Danish to get most of that video but I gave a summary on that page; sorry, alltheworld, this won’t help you I imagine) in the larger exhibition and lecture series Rethinking Nordic Colonialism (I have put the link in the image), exhibited in downtown Nuuk and then at Nordatlantens Brygge in Copenhagen. This is not saying “what if Greenland was Denmark” - the complete opposite. This single part of a much larger work puts in perspective all of the geographic and environmental constraints Greenland faces that keep it, in many ways, reliant on Denmark because of the colonial ‘development’ patterns Denmark imposed on Greenland. It is much more complex and deserves discussion, you can’t and should not just look at it with no critical thought, passing it on with no genuine acknowledgment and a dumb comment.
It’s when people throw images and information around without at the very least giving some indication of who produced it, or any actual ideas informing it, that ACTUAL copyright infringement can occur (say, an environmentalist sees and posts it to his website claiming his own creation and totally warping the interpretation, because there were no signs anywhere of who made it or what it actually referenced), and more broadly, that a distorted understanding of what such works are trying to say become widespread. A work like this needs to be approached in the context of the whole exhibition and considering the historical and sociological backstory. Throw it around like it’s nothing, some fun-looking thing you don’t understand, and you rob it of its meaning - and in this case enable a continuation of colonial distortion of Greenlandic art but not allowing it to speak. I am angry.