Greenlandic activisits join the discussion about decolonisation through art
On 21st of June 2020, Greenland’s National Day, local Nuuk artists and activists depicted Hans Egede’s statue on hilltop overlooking the national capital, following the Black Lives Matter protests across the world.
A anonymous statement came out through Aqqalu Berthelsen - Inuit artist and activist who currently lives in Finland - saying “It is about time that we stop celebrating colonisers and that we start taking back what is rightfully ours. It’s time to decolonise our minds and our country. No coloniser deserves to be on top of a mountain like that. We need to learn the truth of our history.”
Who was Hans Egede?
Hans Egede was a Dano Norwegian clergyman who in 1721, managed to get funded for an expedition to Greenland to search for Norse settlements founded by Vikings centuries earlier and that had lost contact with homeland and probably had never heard the Christian gospel properly. When arriving in Greenland he didn’t find Norse colonisers (they were vanished by around 1500) but the Inuit people. He immediately started his missionary work but found some difficulties as the Inuit didn’t know what bread was for instance.
Roughly 50 years after his arrival the Danish government creates the Royal Greenland Trade Department to manage all trade with the colonised land as a Crown monopoly. He later became the Apostle of Greenland.
Although some historians say Greenland’s colonisation was largely peaceful, colonialism is always violent, negating the alterity and imposing the Western monoculture. In Hans Egede’s diaries one can find statements as below:
“The shaman who does not want to throw away his amulets shall be beaten up in front of other Greenlanders”
“…if the thought is to make use of them, you must absolutely throw them under the yoke and completely treat them like slaves.”
“Their foolishness and lunacy prevents the word of God from causing them submission out of fear, why they must first be turned into humans, in order to make them into Christian humans”
“Children who corrupt others are put in the hole and whipped for eight consecutive days then sent away”
This colonial mindset has been prevalent on Danish policymakers since then.
The statue was erected in Old Nuuk’s hilltop in 1922. Aqqalu Berthelsen says that since the 70s there has been debate about taking it down or not.
The decolonial practice is never about creation but about transformation and that’s what the activists did. Using the national colours of white to paint graphisms traditionally used as tattoos that were banned back in the days and red dripping as the blood of the Inuit people. They also put a whip on his hand.
Since then, there have been a police investigation to find the culprits but the Nuuk municipality said it will hold discussion with its inhabitants to see if it should be removed or not.
This blog wishes to thank Aqqalu Berthelsen for his assistance on the subject