From tattoos to art installations

Historical speaking the art of Greenland has gone from the sealer/whaler cultures traditions of decorating on skin, garments and tools to the modern contemporary art, as we know it today. Not surprisingly this development follows the development of society. From not having a real concept of art, the artistic sense in Greenland unfolded quickly with the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. Visual artists emerged and started producing works of art that may not merely be seen as part of a larger operation or as works of decoration.

Historical evidence

The first things we see are small watercolors, drawings and figurines/sculptors made by Greenlanders who were bound to the dry land due to different causes. In this case it is artists such as Aron from Kangeq (1822-1869) and the woodcutter Johannes Kreutzmann (1862-1940) that are significant. However, the works of art are not only interesting to look at. Aron from Kangeq's works are small, detailed descriptions, typically done with pencil or watercolour, of places and events of contemporary Greenland and they also work as important historical sources that help understand the past.

With the artist Hans Lynge (1906-1988), who in his idiom is closely connected with the European impressionism, the art of Greenland has established itself as an independent language. A language that also the younger Jens Rosing (1925-2008) refined in his many animal- and nature portrayals. The subsequent generations of artists will often mention these two pioneers when expressing their kinship with other artists.

Art in politic

In the political seventies, which at first culminated with the introduction of the Home Rule Government in 1979, the role of art changes. For example, art is used to display a specific Greenlandic attitude (face) to the outside world. The right to the areas of land in the Arctic regions is reasoned in a natural sense of belonging to the earth, the sea and the sky. Not surprisingly, much of the art from that period in Greenland is about the relation between human and nature. Artists such as Aka Høegh (1947-) and Anne-Birthe Hove (1954-2012) are and were representatives of this movement.  The works of Anne-Birthe Hoves contain clear political elements, while Aka Høegh mainly works with nature and motives of myth in a predominantly aesthetic way.

In the same way we see the performance artist Jessie Kleemann (1959-) as a somewhat different artist. She circles around the qivittok, as a phenomenon and state of mind and she focuses on the process of development, which the Greenlandic hunting society still finds itself in, as a theme.

A desire to express

In today's self-governing Greenland new exponents are in play. For example artists such as Julie Edel Hardenberg (1971-), Miki Jakobsen (1965-), Inuk Silis Høegh (1972-), Bolatta Silis-Høegh (1981-), Angu Motzfeldt (1976-), Gukki Willsen Møller (1965-) and Nanna Ánike Nikolajsen (1981). They represent a group of young artists who dissociate themselves from what has normally been perceived as a traditional Greenlandic scene of art. To a greater extend they associate themselves with the trends of the international art scene.

This, however, does not mean that they loose their connection with Greenland or their cultural background. Generally speaking, they have something on their mind and they demonstrate what art in Greenland is about. The new generation of artists also play with the country's existing prejudices concerning history, culture and identity, prejudices that also exist in Greenland. They expand and blast them, in order to show the world the diversity of Greenland!

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