Denmark - Greenland and the Faeroe Islands - Greenland
Art and Culture [top]
Eskimo art continues to show signs of the close relationship between form and function. Artefacts were an integral part of everyday life and also of religious life, and art as understood in western Europe did not appear until late. The Greenlandic word for art, erqumitsuliaq, literally means "something odd, which has been constructed" and was only coined after the first meeting with the Europeans. The interpretation of Nature, Man, animals, legends and myth reflected the Eskimo world, in which everything had an inua and was considered to be alive. The old adage that animals will only let themselves be killed by a beautiful weapon clearly illustrates this belief.
Decorations are widely used; as reinforcements for the seams of garments, as skeletal decoration on figures and masks, and as women's facial tattoos. Today they are only used decoratively, particularly by artists from East Greenland. The sealers, who carved their own tools, found it just as natural to carve small figures. Sculpture was therefore the dominant art form, also because of the raw materials available (bone and soapstone). The artistic expression was generally realistic, grotesque or more stylised.
As a result of growing interest in the Eskimo culture from expatriate Danes in Greenland, drawing, painting and graphic art started to appear in the middle of the 19th century, and legends, myths, Nature and everyday life were depicted in a narrative naïve-expressionist style. Despite the increased influence of Christianity, biblical images were few and far between. The artists, often catechists (teachers and assistant priests), now emerged from the shadow of anonymity, among them Israil Gormansen and Aron of Kangeq, who amongst other things painted a large series of water-colours. In 1905, the shaman Mitsuarnianga was persuaded to create two assemblage-like sculptures representing the secret and evil magic being known as a tupilak, who was an important part of the shaman's magic. The connection between art, magic and daily life changed, and a rich variety of tupilak figures, amulets and masks have since been produced, no longer as part of the cult, but purely artistic or commercial commodities. There are now a large number of popular artists working in this area.
At the turn of the century, a dawning nationalism inspired a new school of landscape artists (Lars Møller, later Otto and Peter Rosing), a genre which continues to play an important role today. The production of paints based on Greenlandic rocks over the last few years can also be seen as a search for the country's inherent values.
A number of Greenlanders were educated at art colleges during the 20th century, but even after the foundation of the School of Art in Nuuk in 1972 very few have been able to make a living from their art alone. Home Rule brought a wave of decorative commissions for schools and town halls, etc., breaking the small-scale mould. The world of mythology has been a recurring motive in recent times, but abstract and conceptual art can be seen, and land art interprets nature in a new way (Pia Arke). Sculpture still abounds (the Kristoffersen family, Aron Kleist), as does graphic art (Anne-Birthe Hove, Aka Høegh, Arnannguaq Høegh). Thue Christiansen won the competition to design Greenland's flag.
Music and dance were also originally a more integral part of society; the idea of simply listening to music, for example, is a recent phenomenon which only appeared with the emergence of singers such as Rasmus Lyberth. The original drum song and drum dance were used as part of the shaman's magic activities and also formed part of the so-called song battles, during which conflicts were legally settled by the use of libellous songs. The drum dance is the only truly indigenous form of music, and it is beginning to make a comeback in Greenland as an element in the creation of a national identity. This can be seen at the summer festivals (known as aussivik), which are themselves a revival of an old tradition. All other Greenlandic music has been influenced by the outside world, right from hymn singing to the expert use of accordions at the so-called dansemik (kalattuut, or folk dancing). New musical genres include vaigat which are Greenlandic versions of evergreens and country and western songs, along with the 1970s' politically influenced versions of beat and rock (including the group known as SUME, who sang in their native language and used the old drum song). The 1980s saw the introduction of funk and reggae with groups such as Zidaza and Aalut.
Mathias Storch's futuristic novel Singnagtugaq (A Greenlander's Dream, 1915) was the first of many literary works to focus on the Eskimo/Greenlandic identity. The literature contains repeated reflections on the existentialist questions and the relationship between Man and Nature. Recently, poetry in particular has dealt with current problems (Kristian Olsen, aaju, Moses Olsen, Dorthe Nathanielsen). The Church influenced literature for many years, and love and sexuality have only slowly regained thematic significance. The painter, sculptor and author Hans Lynge was yet again an exception in this area.
In 1975 the Tuukkaq theatre was set up for local students; in 1985 it became the fourth world's theatre school for Inuits, Samis and native Americans, and the Silamiut experimental theatre in Nuuk took over the original role of the old theatre.
There is still a close relationship between art, culture and everyday life in Greenland today. This is expressed not only in the works of art, but also emphasised by the Cultural Board which was set up by the Landsting in 1988. The dual notion naturi/kulturilu ("nature/culture") is frequently used in the original white Paper.
Now, as before, the women of Greenland are strongly represented in most art forms and cultural activities.
Inge Mørch Jensen
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