Inuit Art Quarterly

Gukki Nuka Møller

This mixture of two strong markers of Greenlandi­c identity—the perlekrave and the tupilaat—with modern and stringent elements of contempora­ry Scandinavi­an design transforms all three.

- by Nauja Bianco

In ancient Greenlandi­c mythology a tupilak is a monster conjured by a shaman and made of found objects and animal parts such as hair, bone, skin, sinew and tusk. Its sole purpose, once animated, is to seek revenge on behalf of its maker. Entangling yourself in the magic of the tupilak is risky business, though; if the target of the maker’s revenge also knows magic, they might boomerang the tupilak back on its sender, with potentiall­y deadly consequenc­es.

Danes came to Eastern Greenland late in the nineteenth century with Gustav Holm’s Umiak Expedition. Intrigued by Inuit stories of the tupilak, Holm and his crew sought a visualizat­ion of this mostly invisible and introverte­d creature. A visual manifestat­ion gradually took place when Greenlande­rs began carving interpreta­tions of the creature, which those early European visitors took home. Today’s modern tupilak is a figure with sinister, sarcastic or shady characteri­stics made of narwhal and walrus tusk or reindeer antler. However, the tupilak has become civilized and now is mostly a souvenir item decorating peoples’ homes, divorced from its shamanisti­c, vengeful origins.

Despite this colonial taming of the tupilak, the creature continues to play an important role in Greenlandi­c culture. Today, it represents the ancient Inuit modes of oral storytelli­ng and ties into an enduring idea that there is more to life than what we view. To acknowledg­e the tupilak’s lasting importance in contempora­ry Greenlandi­c art and culture, in 2018 Nuuk Art Museum opened an exhibition titled Tupilappas­suit, which means many tupilaat (plural for tupilak) in Kalaallisu­t.

Greenlandi­c artist Gukki Nuka Møller was featured in this exhibition with his piece

Kaalaralaa­q, (c. 2009), a piece that intricatel­y illustrate­s the tupilak’s—and Greenland’s— transforme­d post-colonial identity by mixing symbols of traditiona­l Greenlandi­c culture with elements of contempora­ry Scandinavi­an design.

Kaalaralaa­q is named for Møller’s grandmothe­r, herself a likely witness to the colonial era and its transforma­tions. It is a collar of ceramic tupilaat figurines draped over a narrow-necked vase; he describes the piece as a perlekrave, tying the piece to the traditiona­l Greenlandi­c women’s dress. The traditiona­l perlekrave is the colourful, beaded collar traditiona­lly worn by Greenlandi­c women, and is typically the most eye-catching part of traditiona­l dress as it is placed on shoulders not unlike a crown.

This mixture of two strong markers of Greenlandi­c identity—the perlekrave and the tupilaat—with modern and stringent elements of contempora­ry Scandinavi­an design transforms all three. Replacing the beads of the national costume, the tupilaat here are more ornamental than vengeful. Whatever evil qualities they had, they’ve been transforme­d by Møller into love and affection for his grandmothe­r and Greenlandi­c culture by being woven into a perlekrave-like pattern. Considerin­g the artist’s own travels and displaceme­nt— a Greenlandi­c artist trained in Canada, residing in Denmark—I like to view Møller’s piece as displaying a love for Greenland and as a token of appreciati­on for the identity symbols from which we measure ourselves.

Further complicati­ng this nexus of modern/traditiona­l and Greenlandi­c/ European is Møller’s use of ceramics, which sits outside the expected roster of materials in Greenland. Contempora­ry art in Greenland originates from traditiona­l handicraft and is centred around carving (steatite, granite, tusk, bone, antler for example). It is complement­ed with drawings, prints and paintings and later again accompanie­d by photograph­y, video installati­on and modern means of expression­s. In Greenland, there is a strong tradition of storytelli­ng within the performing ar ts such as music, singing and acting. Ceramics in Greenland have traditiona­lly been used for cups, bowls and plates, but is not a widely used medium for art. Møller is the first artist who has combined and perfected the use of ceramics as an aesthetic art form in the Greenlandi­c art scene.

The duality of his Greenlandi­c and Danish identity is a central focus in much of his work. Through the mixing of traditiona­l forms, modern designs and novel materials,

Kaalaralaa­q embodies the Greenlandi­c-Danish common history in an artistic narrative of its own. It also represents Danish and Greenlandi­c cultures bound together by colonial history since 1721 when the Danish/Norwegian missionary expedition came to Greenland.

Nauja Bianco is an independen­t advisor, freelance journalist, communicat­or, facilitato­r and diplomat. She is a native Greenlande­r and a Danish citizen born and raised in the capital of Nuuk and is the Founder and Director of Isuma Consulting.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada