I have been thinking a lot about Inuit photographers and photography lately in connection to my various projects. Thought I would share these two meta-photographic works, examining the methods and motives of one Inuit medium (because as we all know any medium used by an Inuk is an Inuit medium) through the lenses of two more recognizable Inuit media, namely the graphic arts and ivory carving.
Image 1: Kananginak Pootoogook’s famous image The First Tourist, 1992
Image 2: Bob Kussy of Ashoona Studios, Inuit Photographer (Peter Pitseolak)
Bently Spang (Northern Cheyenne)
War Shirt #2, Modern War series 2003
Julie Edel Hardenberg, Swedish Army Anorak, Norwegian Dogpelt. This is one of my favorite works by Julie. It follows the theme she worked on in her time at art school, about how through the application or removal of a few very simple and generic symbols or ways of presenting oneself, that they can be perceived as belonging to a certain race, which then gives the viewer a superficial sense of knowing so much about the person and their background. This then gives them a degree of control over the person and allows them to make the person’s actual background or heritage irrelevant because it can be so easily overriden by the outside, from factors the individual has little control over. Julie illustrates the problems of this ‘visualization of ethnicity’ here, by saying that with the application of an anorak and fur hood that have no connection at all to anything distinctly Greenlandic, when approached in the work of a Greenlandic artist (and when they are made to look cold), anyone could fit into the picture of a Greenlander.
Morten Andenæs, Night Sky. I know some people will look at this and think it’s a caricature, but I’m too soothed by it to care. To me the gesture is so lovely and the suggestion so broad, and even in something so blank there is much drama - what I like to call photographic formalism. Andenæs’ work tends to fluctuate between high drama and melodrama in highly formalist-setups, where light and shade work together not unlike in Western films, and all of his pieces are undeniably cinematic, even this, I would argue. Which perhaps seeks to propose that viewers begin to consider transferring the notion film creates of change and ‘knowing’ of objects and situations, onto photography as well. It does it already, anyway.
Another excellent work by Pia Arke, from the series Legends. In these works Pia attempts to counter the major historic means of Western understanding of Greenland from the first explorations through to today: mapping. From this belief, mapping illustrates the “truths” of the land, it informs and brings confidence to the explorer (scientist, general), and it conveys what is most interesting to these figures; that being mainly its vastness, ruggedness, geographic uniqueness, and in his mind, reveals the nature of the lives of those in the land. The way such figures read an extensive coastal map like this with many fjords and natural harbours, is that the people of Ittoqqortoormiit are bound by their connection to the sea, and so it defines their lives. But it is the people who define their lives. And so Pia places portraits atop these maps, in the foreground, to say that people define the land just as the land contributes to their definition. But to know a land one must know the people, and to know the people one will inherently know the land, because their knowledge of it extends far beyond any maps, ice charts and satellite images.
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.
By Gert Hansen from Qaqortoq. He has mostly worked in traditional media and metal, but is starting to experiment with photography, with good results, I think.