The Little Mermaid and the Devil's Great Grandmother
POLICE inspecting The Little Mermaid Copenhagen after her first beheading in 1964. The
perpetrators have still not been identified and the action remains a mystery.
At the harbour of Copenhagen, on a large stone by the quay, is a statue of a small womanly figure. She does not
look like much, but she is world-famous and if you saw her before the pandemic, chances are she was surrounded by
people from across the world photographing her. For more than a century, she has been sitting still looking at the
water, her fishtail folded behind her, and her human upper body resting on her arm. Conceived by the Danish author
H.C. Andersen, the Little Mermaid
of the fairytale becomes a human being by giving up her beautiful voice,
so she can live with the prince whom she loves. Failing to seduce him without words, she is left with only two
options; either kill him in his sleep, or sacrifice her own life. The Little Mermaid
chooses suicide over
hurting her beloved, yet the story does not end in tragedy as her innocent selflessness is awarded with a chance
to perform good deeds and finally rise up to the heavens.
1 In spring 2010 she was exhibited in the Danish pavilion during the World Expo in Shanghai.
Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei kindly supplied Copenhagners with a live-stream of the Little Mermaid in her new
surroundings, until she returned six months later.
The Little Mermaid in Denmark has had many visitors and travelled around the world, twice she has been decapitated, and yet she
always comes back to life.1 Is it magic? Is it capitalism? Is it because she gained an immortal soul when she
struck a deal with the evil sea-witch? Whenever an unsolved issue needs new attention, she is first to revive
the discussions. Known to resist mainstream opinion, she often appears in scandalous outfits, with bold words or
accessories, to challenge the Danish self-perception, or show solidarity with victims of oppression in other
parts of the world. Having been assaulted and dismembered on several occasions, it seems this mermaid with
nothing left to lose, has become a popular tool for igniting risky conversations on Danish territories.
TOURISTS posing in front of the Little Mermaid statue, even as she protests the whaling industry of the Faroe Islands.
2 Josefsen, Tur: Grønland Og Christianshavn.
Leaving the Little Mermaid
for a moment, let us look at her from the other side of the water, by crossing
the harbour to Christianshavn, taking the first bridge we arrive at the Royal Greenland Dock. From 1750 until
1970 everything Denmark took from Greenland was shipped to this place and turned into profit.2
Also the first Inuit to arrive in Denmark, abducted from Southwestern Greenland in 1605, were sailed here where the Danish king Christian IV himself came
aboard the “Red Lion” to see them with his own eyes. Enjoying what he saw, he sent many more expeditions to the
island where over and over Indigenous men,
3 Johannsen, Jagtspyd Sladrer.
women and children were kidnapped and brought to Copenhagen to demonstrate conquest, stir exotic curiosity and create stories.3
SHIPS unloading goods at the Royal Greenland Dock in Christianshavn, Copenhagen.
4 National Museum of Denmark’s Online Collections, Koloniudstillingen i Tivoli,
But never their own stories—always the stories of colonization, which we continue to tell in Denmark even though
centuries have passed. Three hundred years later in 1905, Inuit people from Greenland were exhibited in the
Tivoli garden along with people from the Faroe Islands and the (then) Danish West Indies in the Colonial Exhibition
This show and subsequent displays of non-white peoples in the Zoo garden, made colonization stories all the more
entertaining, while reinforcing the popular idea that we were superior to them. The Canadian settler/Indigenous research duo Eve Tuck
and K. Wayne Yang
5 Tuck and Yang, Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor, 6.
explains this dichotomy: “Indigenous peoples are those who have creation stories, not
colonization stories, about how we/they came to be in a particular place—indeed how we/they came to be
FOUR Greenlandic men onboard of Dano-Norweigan expedition ship Gjøa in 1903.
6 Sorento, the Fight for Greenland, 00:16:45.
If it was not for these colonization stories, would Denmark still have fairy tales about curious mermaids and
invincible princes? Had we not taken Indigenous
7 Sassumap Arnaa, Imap Ukua, Nuliajuk, Sedna, Sanna Sassuma Arnaguasakk same Goddess
has many names and variations to her mythology. A subversive woman, in some legends by the name Nivika,
refusing to marry any of the village men she decides to marry her dog, who accompanies her in the underworld
as a great guardian.
people hostage to stimulate our fantasy, would we have bedtime
stories to tell our children? What stories do mothers in Greenland tell their
children? In the recent documentary
the Fight for Greenland one of the young protagonists Greenlandic Paninnguaq Heilmann, tells her daughter
bedtime stories of Sassuma Arnaa
, the soul of the sea.6
Worshipped for thousands of years by Inuit across continents she is
known both as a great big mermaid and as an old vengeful woman carrying many names, but for the sake of ease,
let us stick with the translation Mother of the Sea
Opposite the Little Mermaid
she was born human,
but transformed into a Goddess when drowning at sea. Refusing to marry any man from her village, her father cuts
off her fingers as she hangs grasped on to the side of his boat. As she sinks to the dark depths of the sea, her
fingers turn into sea animals, and as ruler of the underworld, Mother of the Sea
power over both life and afterlife.
This subversive goddess does not dissolve into foam on the waves and become a daughter of the air, and unlike
the Little Mermaid she would never agree to get her tongue cut off, but was dismembered unwillingly. She
releases sea animals for the hunters if people on land do not cross her, and angakkut 8 will risk their life to comb her
long hair so that no seals get tangled up.
8 Angakkoq (plur. angakkut) was the spiritual and intellectual figure of Inuit
communities, who functioned as shamans and healers. Spelling varies across regions.
In a dramatic interpretation by Hans Egede, the first Dano-Norweigan
missionary to arrive in Greenland, Mother of the Sea
is dominated by the male angakkoq
who swings her by the hair till she
loses her powers.9
Egede calls her the ‘Devil’s Great Grandmother’ and ‘The Goddess of Hell’. One can
imagine she would give the 18th century priest a scare, after such an insult,
9 Jakobsen, Shamanism, 70.
perhaps that is why on his journey
10 Wikipedia contributors, Hans Egede.
he: “saw a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its
head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow’s nest on the mainmast. (...) Later the sailors saw
its tail as well. The monster was longer than our whole ship.”10
A MAP of the Nuuk region pictured in Poul Egede’s account. The great sea serpent encountered
on the first visit to Greenland, or perhaps the Mother of the Sea, is featured at the bottom.
This became one of the earliest written accounts of a sea monster sighting. Though intimidated by the
supernatural encounter, Egede prevailed on his mission to spread the word of God, and even after many generations, Danes still teach Greenlandic people to assimilate and insist that Inuit critical
thinking, spirituality and creativity does not belong in the classroom. When Panninguaq is cast in the leading
role as Mother of the Sea in the school musical at College of Nuuk she is disappointed to find out that
her character will be performing exclusively in Danish and singing the song ‘Look At What You Made Me Do’ by
Taylor Swift instead of a Greenlandic song paying tribute to her cultural heritage. She confronts her teacher and proposes to add Greenlandic
expressions to the script, but her concerns are dismissed so she decides to give up the role.11 Not only do
we insist on repeating colonization stories, we also colonize, appropriate and abuse their creation stories.
SCULPTURE of Sassuma Arnaa raised in Nuuk Colonial Habour in 2007. The angaqok is combing her
hair, so she will provide people on land with hunting animals.
Was the docile Little Mermaid invented by a Danish man, in an attempt to combat the ferocious sea-goddess
of Inuit myth? Endorsed by Disney, the Little Mermaid taught me and millions of girls to give up their
voices and identities for the love of a white man. Rather than roaming the sea, proud of her fish tail, the
Little Mermaid leaves her sisterhood behind to become ‘fully’ human hoping to live happily ever after
with a prince. Back in the 18th century Christianshavn, similar hopes must have been held by the women who
journeyed to Greenland from the ‘discipline, health, and improvement house’ a penal institution hosting
prostitutes and children. As the new colony which Egede named ‘Good Hope’ (Godthaab) needed females to successfully
reproduce, these young women and girls got married to the soldiers, prisoners and slaves who the king sent to occupy the
‘Island of Hope’ but eventually left to die from malnutrition, and infections.
12 A celebration budgeted to cost Greenland roughly € 400.000, if divided by citizens, every
Greenlander could get 7 euros instead. Schultz-Nielsen, Knap 3 Mio. Afsat Til Hans Egede-Fejring.
2021 marks the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Hans Egede, though the capital is no longer known as ‘Godthaab’ a statue of Egede still overlooks Nuuk today. Apart from a recent attack covering the statue, with red
paint, the pedestal with Inuit symbols and the word ‘DECOLONIZE’, there has been no political backlash on the
celebration of the Danish colonization of Greenland.12
Instead the focus is to commemorate the meeting of cultures
enforcing the colonial
narrative of a happy union between the primitive and the civilized, which made Danish territory 98% larger
than it was. It is this claim to territory that renders Denmark an Arctic superpower and the stolen land
“natural resources”. Driven by the insatiable desire to explore, extract and exhaust these reserves, Greenlandic
demands for influence are repeatedly undermined, and the current self-rule act of 2009 does not include foreign
affairs, finances, defence and jurisdiction.
HANS EGEDE in Nuuk vandalized on Greenland’s National Day, less than a month after the murder
of George Floyd.
The influx of Greenlandic women in Christianshavn today reflects a past of hopelessness. Of the many
Inuit arriving in Denmark with plans and dreams, those who have their hopes crushed often find community
in the neighbourhood. Squatters in the 1970’s created a tolerant atmosphere which laid the foundation for the
biggest drug market in Denmark, in the freetown Christiania. Naturally, the commune has also attracted
Greenlandic people with addictions and in 2018 during one of countless police raids in Pusher Street, a violent
confrontation occurred between armed police and civilians. Video recordings of the incident fluctuated,
depicting an intoxicated and provocative Greenlandic woman being violently pushed back several meters by an
officer, landing with the back of her head against the brick road.
VIOLENT CLASHES in Freetown Christiania where a Greenlandic woman pushed to the ground by
police, she has been imprisoned since 2019.
It might come as a surprise, that the woman so brutally assaulted two years ago, is still in prison convicted
for violence against police in function. The 51-year old woman who posed little threat to the officers in full
armour, was not only wounded, she also had to go two years to prison for it. Following her arrest the newspapers
did not write about the overrepresentation of Greenlandic women in Danish prisons nor did they write about the systemic
invisibility Inuit are subjected to due to their Danish passports, instead they found comic relief in her court
defense: “I don’t
recall it. I had been drinking vodka, Bailey, Tuborg Gold, and I’d smoked some weed.”13 Struggling
with trauma and addiction, many a Greenlandic woman has been racialized, and ostracized by Danish society, only to find peace at the bottom of the bottle, which Danish media dramatize gleefully, thereby
enforcing dehumanizing stereotypes.
13 My translation. Ritzau, Jeg Kan Ikke Huske Det.
The harmful effects of this dehumanization have become so unbearably apparent, that when a homeless man was found dying in
front of a mall, the first by-passer to make an emergency call was asked if the man was ‘a
Greenlander’. After answering yes, it took 40 minutes and numerous other callers, before an ambulance arrived to
find the man dead. Even after leaked
recordings proved how police lied about the racist question, the neglect never had any legal ramifications
for those responsible.15
15 Trier, Hør Lyden.
That the Danish justice system provides no justice but rather incriminates the
Inuit minority is not surprising considering that it was never a system designed to protect them
, but those who
made them vulnerable in the first place.
MARBLE BLOCKS from Maamorilik, serve as benches for day-drinking in Christianshavns Square.
Sculptures of Inuit hunters mark the historical presence of Greenlandic people in the neighbourhood.
THE MARBLE QUARRY Maamorilik in North Western Greenland employed up to 300 people in the
The central Christianshavn's Square is home to young and old alcoholized Greenlanders but also to
two-billion-year-old Greenlandic marble blocks. The exploitation of land is inextricably linked to that of
Indigenous peoples, and across generations, patterns emerge demonstrating the urgent need to address the pain
which Denmark has for centuries inflicted upon Greenland with great indifference. As the desire for independence
grows stronger, the Little Mermaid could be easily swallowed by the Mother of the Sea who—as a
figure of replenishment and regeneration-uses her transformative powers to balance life in the sea, the source
of Inuit economy. As she releases a new wave of national empowerment, it is yet to be seen whether Greenland will throw all colonial remnants overboard and cut
ties to the old kingdom-or if her knots can be gently brushed out through Indigenous healing.
The Lesser Evil1
NATIVE GREENLANDER passing the US millitary base at Thule on snow slay in 1966.
1 The principle of the lesser evil was problematized by Hannah Arrendt: "Politically,
the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that
they chose evil." See Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment, 36.
It seems that the hope
most central to Hans Egede’s mission, which we
celebrate in the coming
year, was a hope for continuous acquisition of land, bodies and minds, the “development” which shaped Greenland
into a constituent part of a nation state 3000 km away. This ongoing somewhat casual exploitation goes largely
unnoticed and undisputed, yet when Donald Trump in 2019 proposed to buy
Greenland, calling it a ‘large
real-estate deal’, the status of Greenland within the Danish Realm, again became a question of public interest
in Denmark. Historically the relationship between Greenland and USA, with Denmark paternalistically leading
negotiations on Greenland’s behalf has led to numerous military and environmental scandals.
2 Henley, Greenland’s Receding Icecap to Expose Top-Secret US Nuclear Project.
The receding Greenland ice sheet will sooner rather than
later reveal secretly disposed nuclear waste, as the ice is melting at the highest pace in 12.000 years2
making Copenhagen-based scientists admit to the failure of their climate predictions which
3 Jex, Klimamodeller Undervurderer Kraftig Afsmeltning På Grønlands Indlandsis.
factor in hopeful reductions of co2 emissions while
underestimating the multitude of climatic processes simultaneously occurring.3
MEME retweeted by president Donald Trump in response to the claim Greenland is not for sale
Whether it is left to climate scientists or shamans like the angakoq, to guide and foresee the future of our
environments, it is evident that nature changes behaviour according to human activities. Inuit knew this many
generations ago, and taboo rules and myths functioned to prevent overhunting, as Mother of the Sea could
withhold the sea animals if humans violated her territory. As temperatures in the Arctic rise faster than anywhere
else on the globe, it is easy to imagine the burning fury of Mother of the Sea heating up the ocean due
to our ignorance and harmful habits.
4 Climate Signals, Arctic Amplification.
man-made climate-change can be just as difficult as believing in mermaids, however we need to
believe in something to have a chance at survival.4
TOWN HOUSE floating by Nuugaatsiaq after the 2017 tsunami, which killed several.
Regardless if we decide to think of it as Arctic Amplification or the powers of a furious Goddess, the
extreme decrease of sea ice opens up new shipping routes in the Arctic, so Asian goods can be transported much
faster to consumers in the West. Apart from the obvious strategic benefit, Greenland also attracts global
interest due to its enormous untapped supply of minerals, and rare-earth elements (REE). Estimated to contain a
third of all the world’s untapped REE reserves alongside the largest undiscovered oil and gas reserves,
Greenland has been dubbed the
Amazon of the North.5 This is a stark comparison given the South-American rainforest is currently
transforming into a desolate Savannah, depleting its Indigenous inhabitants for their sustainable ways of
5 Australian-Chinese cooperation Greenland Minerals Ltd. are opening the second biggest
uranium-mining site in the world in South Greenland. The area was explored by Danish comissioners already in the 1960’s, but today the mineral extraction has changed from a case of Danish colonialism to a
promising alternative to Danish financing. See Hooge, Kujataa, 80.
Changes imposed to Greenlandic ways of living and dying accelerated after World War II, when Greenland changed
status, becoming an ‘equal’ part of the Danish kingdom in 1953, rather than a colony subjected to UN critique.
Greenland’s modernization turned self-sufficient hunters into wage-workers in Danish-owned factories
and mines, and replaced semi-nomadic settlements along the coast, with poor quality concrete blocks in the
capital, outsourcing care and education from the family to the emerging welfare state. No longer independent in
small communities, the Greenlandic people became rent-paying and reliant on
6 Federici, On Primitive Accumulation, Globalization and Reproduction.
forces of the market economy. In
Marxist terms this phase is understood as the primitive accumulation preceding any capitalist society, which
feminist scholar and millitant Silvia Federici argues is never a one-time isolated historical event, but an eternally recurring process,
essential to global capitalism.6
BLOK P was the largest residential building to be erected on Danish territories in 1965-1966
and was demolished in 2012. With its 320 appartments the building housed more residents than entire villages,
and became home to approximately 1% of Greenland’s entire population.
7 The woman from Qaqortoq was the first Inuit to receive punishment equal to the Danish
system, previously Greenlandic offenders would receive a public beating instead, as Inuit were not considered
‘fit’ to the Western penalty system. See Jeremiassen,Straf Og Fængsel i Grønland.
With the industrialization of the 20th century, new ways of living meant an explosive growth in birth rates
causing the population to almost triple in only forty years. In the early 1960’s Danish authorities began campaigning for birth control to bring down the number of pregnancies and implemented the
right to abortion in 1975. Today more pregnancies end in abortion than in birth, and Greenland has one of the
highest rates of abortion in the world. Paradoxically, the first Greenlandic person to be incarcerated, was a
woman sentenced in 1909, who committed infaticide after an unwanted pregnancy. Just like the sisters of
the Little Mermaid
who had their long hair taken by the evil Sea Witch, the woman from Qaqortoq had her
hair cut off as punishment.7
8 Postcolonial is in brackets as it is argued that Greenland still functions as a colony,
as it continues to be under the Danish constitution. Hansen, Forsker: Grønland Er Fortsat En Dansk
What also contributed to an increased population was the influx of Danish migrants who performed skilled labour
and administration in the growing public sector. Of these 'postcolonial'8 generations many were born to Danish fathers, who bore no legal
9 Ministeriet for Børn, Ligestilling, Integration og Social Forhold, Juridisk Faderløse Får Nye Rettigheder.
children born out of wedlock in Greenland and had their right to anonymity protected by
Danish law. This law ensured that mothers to children born out of wedlock before 1974, could be taken to trial
for informing anyone of the Danish father’s identity. Only in 2014, after years of documenting the traumatic
consequences experienced by fatherless children, did the organization Juridiske Faderløse
(eng. Juridically Fatherless) achieve a
change in legislation allowing Greenlandic children born out of wedlock to Danish fathers, the same rights as
any other child born to unmarried parents.9
DANISH PRIMEMINISTER Stauning portrayed as a visionary ‘father of nations’ in a 1939 painting
by Wilfred Glud. Amongst the workers, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland are depicted as adults, while the child
between the primeminister’s legs is the representation of Greenland.
10 Fødestedskriteriet legislation in place from 1964-1991 meant that people born in
Greenland or living there before the age of five, would receive lower incomes and fewer benefits than people
Until recently Danish legislation was not only efficient at protecting Danish men’s sexual freedom, it also
ensured via the birth-place
that their salaries would be approximately twice as high as those of Greenlandic workers. This type of discrimination was not a
invention, since the earliest attempts of colonization, the nation state has gendered and
racialized in order to exploit Indiginous populations. Discrimination and obsessive categorization was deeply
embedded in the social design of the colony, illustrated by the Royal Greenland Trade Department who
prohibited employees from marrying Inuit or racially mixed women in 1782. The term ‘mixed
’ was used to
describe any Greenlander who, even generations back, had some European ancestry, effectively reducing the 'fully' native population, evoking the blood-quantum
of Northern America. Other than placing Greenlanders in one of two ethnic categories and assessing
and moral behaviour
, the administrators did everything to quantify the isolated
CENCUS of the Chief Colonial Officer from Qeqertarsuaq 1830. The word blandinger was used for
children of mixed descent, in administration up until the 20th century.
11 Seiding, Colonial Categories of Rule, 56-63.
Thus Inuit was ordered into the binary
categories of women and men, promoting strictly monogamous heterosexual marriages, as anything other would be
12 The Inuit term sipiniq
describes a third gender, stemming from sipi
meaning split, for example a newborn infant could be born with male genitalia that ‘split open’ becoming female genitalia, thus the child would be socially designated as male. Sippiniq is not as widely used as the term two-spirit
which gained popularity since the later 20th century as a way for native people across territories to reclaim non-binary gender-identities, exempted in colonial time.
irreconcilable with God.11
contrast, Inuit had traditions involving extramarital sex, and believed that every person had a female
and a male spirit, that gender was not defined by the body but by which of the two spirits was the most
dominant within it.12
centuries of Danish occupation in Greenland demonstrates how colonization subjugated populations to
Christianity, turned women’s reproductive rights into a ‘bio-political’ instrument,
13 In Foucault’s terms, racism is above all a technology aimed at permitting the exercise of
biopower. See Mbembé, Necropolitics, 17.
and invented race and
gender as tools for capitalist exploitation threatening the lives of any non-conforming peoples.13
MISSIONARY preaching in Inuit home painted by Aron of Kangeq.
15 Federici, Wxtch Craft Lecture, 0:28:26.
In her online lecture at KABK,
Federici brings up the notion of body territory,
tying the resistance and defense of land to the female
body, as the same authorities inflict violence on both. Federici emphasizes how the capitalist state invades
not only geographical territories but renders the female body a territory, an ‘object of direct
appropriation’: “women’s body is a colony that can be acquired, dominated, exploited
without risk, with impunity.”15
Our understanding of colonization needs to be extended to the
female body, sexuality, and reproductive rights, if we are to understand how the Danish colonization has
extended far beyond the date Greenland officially stopped being a colony.
16 In 2015 the ratio of suicides in
Greenland was 83 per 100.000 which remains more than twice as high as the second and third ranking
countries. Turnowsky, Antallet Af Selvmord Falder—Men Ikke i Grønland.
Meanwhile the trauma of forceful modernization has been passed on to following generations and stories of
neglect, abuse, discrimination and violence are ubiquitous across Inuit territories, leading to a stark rise in
suicides. Until the year 1950 only 14 suicides had been recorded in Greenland but by the late 1970s the ratio
17 Bjerregaard and Larsen, Three Lifestyle-Related Issues of Major Significance for Public
Health among the Inuit in Contemporary Greenland, 5.
from being amongst the lowest in the world to the highest. A world record which has remained for 35
years in a row, a reality so deeply painful, statistics can only give an indication of the suffering.16
Violence, alcohol and sexual abuse is recognized as contributing factors to the suicide
epidemic, a health survey from 2014
suggest that almost 50% of East Greenlanders have suffered from sexual abuse while growing up, but surveys
rarely reflect the historic roots of problems.17
PROTEST MARCH against suicides passing the graveyard in Nuuk, October 30. 2018.
Though the number of suicides peaked in the wake of rapid changes to Greenlandic society, criticism is seldomly
explicitly directed at the Danish politics which imposed these rapid changes. In the essay ‘Necropolitics’
political theorist Achille Mbembe defines sovereignty as the right to kill, to subjugate the ‘other’, or in the
case of suicide the self, to different degrees of death: “Whether read from the perspective
of slavery or of colonial occupation, death and freedom are irrevocably interwoven. As we have seen, terror is
a defining feature of both slave and late-modern colonial regimes. Both regimes are also specific instances
and experiences of unfreedom. To live under late modern occupation is to experience a permanent condition of
“being in pain”” In this
experience of unfreedom, the ongoing pain is relieved only at the moment of death, and the sole possibility
19 Mbembé, Necropolitics, 38-39.
attaining sovereignty over life is to become one's own killer.19
STILL from Aka Hansen’s "Polar" short film that
adresses youth suicides through the myth of Sassuma Arnaa.
Looking at death as an intrinsic part of politics, and learning that Indigenous and First Nation peoples across
the globe battle equally brutal statistics, it seems evident that the colonization and still-Danish sovereignty
is reflected in the pain Greenland faces today. But in Denmark the perception is very different. Mostly
when Greenland gains media attention, it is for its nature portrayed as a great unexplored resource, or
for its people portrayed as emotionally dysfunctional addicts, unable to meet modern ways of living.
Danish film and tv producers will use music and effects to dramatize the vast and beautiful landscapes, in stark
contrast to the ugliness of Inuit suffering. The awareness that we contribute to that same suffering, has yet to
sink in, while Denmark continues to postpone or deny attempts of reconciliation.
STILL from the German silent comedy film from 1918 Das Eskimobaby in which a
charicature of an uncivil Greenlandic woman, played by Danish actress Asta Nielsen.
ARTIST Pia Arke reversing the Greenlandic national costume while sitting naked in front of a
landscape photograph. Arke created performative works using photography and archives, centered on the
colonization of Greenland and the female body.
20 Hansen Is, other ice cream producers insist on keeping the term ‘eskimo’ which for decades
has been considered derogatory and was officially replaced by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) in 1980.
However it can still be found in the National Museum of Denmark as they only recently decided to
replace it in their exhibitions. See Floris, Eskimo Ice Cream.
In recent debates over the word ‘eskimo’ concerns for white fragility
, overrule any considerations for
Greenlandic experience. Thus the ice cream called ‘Gigantic Eskimo’
can still be found in supermarkets, ignoring decades of Inuit
Ignorance has been the preferred attitude towards Greenlandic demands for as long as anyone
remembers; when an American military plane carrying bombs crashed outside the Thule-base in 1968 Denmark ignored
it until years later, when it was revealed how the Danish prime minister had been informed about the presence of
atomic weapons in Greenland, despite the Danish ban of nuclear power.21
21 Wikipedia contributors. 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 Crash.
The scandalous incident illustrates how laws which applied to all of
Danish territories, could in the case of Greenland, be by-passed, bended or completely ignored.
AERIAL photograph of the blackened ice in, the b-52 American military plane crashed in 1968.
The clean-up operation was called 'Project Crested Ice'.
Mbembé elaborates on this state of exception, as a consequence of racism, the technology which enabled Europeans
to commit murder, without it being a crime: “That colonies might be ruled over in absolute lawlessness stems from
the racial denial of any common bond between the conqueror and the native. In the eyes of the conqueror,
savage life is just another form of animal life, a horrifying experience, something alien beyond imagination
or comprehension. In fact, according to Arendt, what makes the savages different from other human beings is
less the color of their skin than the fear that they behave like a part of nature, that they treat nature as
their undisputed master. Nature thus remains, in all its majesty, an overwhelming reality compared to which
they appear to be phantoms, unreal and ghostlike.”22
22 Mbembé, Necropolitics, 24.
Undoubtedly, the lifestyle of Inuit communities was
used to fuel the fantasy of a vast wilderness, in which 'primitive' savages
subordinated to nature in order to
survive. The colonial imagination of us
as separate species, justified the difference in
treatment, present even in ‘postcolonial’ Greenlandic society.
INSTEAD of using their Inuit names, the Canadian settler state assigned idenification numbers
and tags to natives, which were in use until the 1980’s, and allegedly still exist in the government systems.
23 After multiple delays and long silences, on the last day I write this, the Danish
prime minister officially apologized to the 6 out of 22 Greenlandic people who survived the state’s treatment coined the
experiment, but hundreds more were "adopted" by Danish families throughtout the 1950's. Unlike the Canadian, the Danish apology makes no mention of a cultural genocide, but
repeats that the mistake was made with the ‘best intentions’. See Regeringen, Undskyldning til de 22
In the Canadian settler-state the Inuit population were forced to carry badges similar to dog tags, identifying them by number
instead of name. The ‘eskimo identification’ was officially in use until the 1980’s while until the 1990’s
children were forcefully removed from their families, cultures and languages to receive a ‘civilized’ Christian
education. With prime minister Stephen Harper’s apology in 2008 these politics of the Canadian state
were officially declared a cultural genocide
against Indigenous peoples. In comparison to US and Canadian
settler-coloniality, Denmark’s rule over Greenland is portrayed as the lesser evil.
Yet Denmark too has
experimented with the same variation of cultural genocide, while survivors who
24 In Greenlandic schools children were not taught in Greenlandic until 1967, and
still today secondary schools and higher education is only available in Danish, making it inaccessible for
Greenlanders who do not speak it fluently. (Growing up in the 2000's all school taught me about Greenland was that
it was where Santa Claus lives.)
were removed from their families and sent to Denmark as children in
the 1950’s are still waiting for an apology.23
The institutional assaults on Greenlandic identity bear witness to the importance of
It is alarming how racism found heavy anchors in innocent things like children’s stories,
amusement parks, zoos, and candies, how rather than admitting error, and critically educating about past
choose to insist on the right to feed children racist ice cream.
'THE EXPERIMENT’ children were placed in foster care in Denmark to have their culture and
family ties erased in 1951.
The Master’s Tools1
HANS EGEDE's sculpture in Nuuk was first covered in paint in 1977.
1 The Master’s Tools was coined by
Audre Lorde in 1984: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to
temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” See
Lorde, Sister Outsider, 110—114.
As much as it has been used for colonization, education can also be a tool for decolonization—to instill
pride and confidence in Indigenous knowledge production and to carve out a space where alternatives to colonial
systems can exist. However Tuck and Yang reminds us it cannot be achieved by metaphorizing, abstracting and
conceptualizing decolonisation: “The easy adoption of decolonization as a metaphor (and
nothing else) is a form of settler anxiety,
2 Tuck and Yang. Decolonization Is
Not a Metaphor, 9. because it is a premature attempt at reconciliation.”2
The duo defines six tendencies which have falsely been connected to, and
taken away focus from the essence of decolonisation. Coined moves to innocence
, these responses
frequently appear in the context of ‘justice-work’ and provide colonizers and their descendants with relief from
In response to the vandalism of Hans Egede’s statue, two white scholars wrote the article ‘Activists demand the
mental decolonisation of the mind’ for Justiceinfo.net. The article begins with a superficial introduction of
the Danish colonisation of Greenland, after which they quote artist and activist Aqqalu Berthelsen’s statement: “It’s about time that we stop celebrating colonizers and that we start taking back what is
rightfully ours. It is time to decolonize our minds and our country. No colonizer deserves to be on top of a
mountain like that. We need to learn the Truth of our History,” This straight forward demand is however
moulded into the settler-friendly idea, that only the minds need decolonisation, without any mention of
AQQALU BERTHELSEN placing snow goggles on Hans Egede’s statue in Harstad, Norway.
The authors conveniently overlook the most central claim of the statement, that Greenland should be officially
recognised as its own country. Focusing solely on the diffuse idea of decolonising the mind the article
describes the activist group as: “(...) part of a movement in Greenland calling for mental
decolonization, who argue that despite large degrees of self-government compared to other indigenous peoples
around the world, a wide variety of informal forms of colonialism are still governing Greenlandic people,
making the transition away from the state of Denmark almost impossible.”3 With imprecise reference, they argue Greenland has
relatively large autonomy, thus instilling skepticism and ignoring the claim for sovereignty, ultimately appeasing
3 Krebs and Andersen. Activists
Demand Mental Decolonization in Greenland.
the white reader, that for Greenland it is almost impossible
to leave Denmark. Though perhaps
well-intended, this argument reveals an underlying conviction that
4 Niviâna, Manifesto: The System Exposing Itself.
Indigenous people are in need of guidance from
the white settler state.
Tuck and Yang characterizes this form of response as the ‘free your mind and the rest will follow’. The central
mechanism in this specific move to innocence, is to focus on cultivation of critical awareness without regards
to the necessary actions for actual decolonisation. Another red flag is that, the article makes no mention
of what was also part of the activist intervention; a red flag with white letters reading ‘LAND BACK’. In the
activists’ manifesto delivered by Aka Niviâna, the flag is contextualized: “Land back. A statement not only
defending the land, but the people living on it. A solidarity movement beyond colonial borders, showing
solidarity with other indigenous groups and marginalized people.”4
Tuck and Yang insist that decolonization must
include the return of land. That it never goes unnoticed, because it is an unsettling process of distancing the
settler from that which was unjustly occupied.
RED FLAG raised on the foggy National Day reading ‘LAND BACK’.
5 Tuck and Yang. Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor, 20.
Aligned with political philosopher Franz Fanon who in 1963 insisted on decolonization as a historical process of
complete disorder, a break with colonial conditions, Tuck and Yang compare him with education philosopher
6 In September it was decided after a local vote, that Hans Egede will remain in the prestigious site looking over the capital. The popular argumentation is that removing statues is erasing history. Wille, Status På Afstemning.
Freire: “Freire positions liberation as redemption, a freeing of both oppressor and oppressed through their
humanity. Humans become ‘subjects’ who then proceed to work on the ‘objects’ of the world (animals, earth,
water), and indeed read the word (critical consciousness) in order to write the world (exploit nature). For
Freire, there are no Natives, no Settlers, and indeed no history, and the future is simply a rupture from the
Paradoxically celebrating the colonizer is today normalized to the point that making any
changes to his presence, even as a statue, is seen as a threat to history.6
So Hans Egede remains, after a local vote, at his prominent spot, while the word “DECOLONIZE” has been washed
off his pedestal. Using the word in its verb-form it becomes an imperative for the continuous dismantling of
colonial values. It is with this commitment that redesigned curriculums around the globe approach education in a
myriad of contexts. Research collective Decolonizing Design outlines their vision of improved design education,
in Decolonising Design Education: Ontologies, Strategies, Urgencies the collective defines decolonisation
of design as an ontological statement: “What we mean by ‘ontological’ is that what we design, designs back on
us, designing the very being of our world. And it seems for the Global North at least,
what is required to get viable futures, is to redesign the being-in-our-worlds.”7
7 Decolonising Design, Decolonising Design Education, 82.
As much as we
need to change, as merely a statement,
containing no historical, ethnic or geographical specificity, ‘decolonising design education’ risks becoming yet
another move to innocence.
'DECOLONIZE' banner hung by the road leading to Nuuk, an artistic intervention by Aka Hansen.
Like feminism and anti-racism also decolonization can become trendy, but Tuck and
Yang remain critical towards its application within education: “it is not uncommon to hear speakers refer,
almost casually, to the need to “decolonize our schools,” or use “decolonizing methods”, or “decolonize student
thinking.” Yet, we have observed a startling number of these discussions make no mention of Indigenous peoples,
our/their struggles for the recognition of our/their sovereignty, or the contributions of Indigenous
intellectuals and activists to theories and frameworks of decolonization.”8
8 Tuck and Yang. Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor, 2-3.
This is why at Ontario College of Art
and Design University (OCAD) in Toronto, head of design, Elisabeth ‘Dori’ Tunstall begins every presentation by
acknowledging the Indigenous custodians of the land upon which the university was built.
Meanwhile the Danish Royal Academy of Art is proud of its royalty, even though it means that the school was built with rubble used
as ballast aboard slave-ships.9
When the academy’s founding father,
9 Anonyme Billedkunstnere, DET KGL. DANSKE KUNSTAKADEMIS GRUNDLÆGGER SMIDT I HAVNEN
king Frederik V embodied by a plaster replica
of a statue, suffered the tragic fate of dissolution in the canal, it resulted in scandal and firings. The act of
solidarity with activists in Nuuk and elsewhere impacted by Danish colonization, was labelled terrorism and
10 Willerslev, Rane Willerslev: "Busteaktionen Rejser En Vigtig Debat..."
equalled with the Taliban’s annihilation of 6th century Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.10
what actions like these are called, there is an urgent need for addressing and reducing the harm done by Eurocentric
art and design education.
THE BUST plaster replica of a former king, Frederik V who founded the Danish Royal Academy of
Art in 1754 with money made in the transatlantic slave trade.
A TEACHER at the academy claimed responsibility for the happening,
and lost her job as consequence.
11 Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, 82.
Within graphic design, typography especially illustrates existing hierarchies as it expresses written language,
where Latin is favoured over all other scripts, symptomatically called Non-Latin. Typographer Robert Bringhurst
defines the responsibility of graphic designers: “Communication ceases when one being is no different from
another: when there is nothing strange to wonder at and no new information to exchange. For that reason among
others, typography and typographers must honor the variety and complexity of human language, thoughts and
identity, instead of homogenizing or hiding it.”11
An honourable task, if completed with this dedication to
diversity, yet often misunderstood resulting in offensive use of type.
One surprising example of such offense is the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
(UNDRIP). Designed by UN in-house designers, the legal paper uses the same typeface as the cocktail menu of the
Vavoom Tiki Room in the Hague, and probably countless other ‘exotic’ publications around the world. Unlike other
official documents, the headlines are in ‘earthy’ warm colours accompanied by a border consisting of geometric
spirals. A strong sense of cognitive dissonance occurs when reading the text:“Resolution adopted by the
General assembly…” as the eyes expect to read "Hakuna Matata!"
THE COVER of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples signed by
182 nation states worldwide in 2007.
12 Pater, The Politics of Design 52-55.
As in other fields, graphic designer Ruben Pater notes how often questionable design decisions are made by white
designers, with no knowledge of the culture they seek to emulate, instead reflecting only the designers’
imagination, reducing Indigenous culture to a colonial stereotype. According to Pater: “Ethnic typography can
lead to racist designs, but more importantly the use of ethnic stereotypes prevents the public from seeing
representations of minorities treated with the same respect as those of the dominant culture.”12
When a document
concerning the ‘survival, dignity and wellbeing’ of all Indigenous peoples on this planet, at the highest
institutional level, on behalf of 148 constituent nation states, is designed with this level of cultural
awareness, can we trust those rights will be taken seriously?13
13 A non-legally-binding resolution passed in 2007. United Nations, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
However not only ignorant designers are to blame, also our tools carry responsibility as they support these
decisions. In the 2020 version of Adobe Illustrator, a popular software amongst graphic designers, a property
called ‘borders’ enables users to apply an ‘Indigenous’
14 Mbembé, Decolonizing Knowledge, 26.
style, reminiscent of the UNDRIP spirals. Across
platforms and interfaces examples of racialization can be found encoded within the software, we see as a neutral
and universal vessel for design. Indeed, what we design, designs back at us, and as technology grows ‘smarter’
the question of agency becomes more and more important. Mbembe articulates this development: “We are witnessing an
opening up to the multiple affinities between humans and other creatures or species. We can no longer assume
that there are incommensurable differences between us, tool makers, sign makers, language speakers and other
animals or between social history and natural history.”14
Without the binary division of objects and subjects,
animals and humans, our machines and our brains, the mermaid becomes evermore relevant as an interspecies
creature, able to float between cultures.
BORDERS in “Indigenous” styles, can be easily added to any vector-shape in Adobe Illustrator.
15 The closest English word would be soul or spirit but Inua also applies to objects, animals, emotions and abstract things like sleep or laughter.
In pre-Christian Greenland such a separation was not made between humans and other species. In the holistic Inuit
belief system the concept of Inua
meant that everything visible was animated with life, not visible to
the eye. This spiritual approach to nature, created an entirely different understanding of tools, than that of a
consumer-society, and resulted in an intricate and inherently sustainable design practice.15
technologies were used to insulate clothing, allowing hunters to move swiftly and suddenly without sweating, to
again sit still for hours without freezing. Just by feeling three-dimensional maps carved in drift-wood, hunters
could navigate the coastlines in kayak in the darkness of winter. Snow goggles helped in the long bright summer
days, when hunters could go blind from the sun’s reflection. The Inuit hunting techniques were so sophisticated,
16 Marquardt, Greenland’s Demography, 49.
it took 150 years of colonization before Europeans could contribute anything significantly improving them.16
COASTLINE MAPS carved in drift-wood, from East Greenland 1885.
17 See Jakobsen, Shamanism, 46.
But Inuit innovations were not only practical, the interconnectedness with spirits meant design was a kind of magic that anyone could exercise for protection, revenge or healing.17
When uncritically adopting
pre-existing tools, aesthetics, and attitudes shaped by those in power, we are merely reproducing the same
patterns in new guises. Audre Lorde brought up this urgency in her speech ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never
Dismantle the Master’s House’: “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of
acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are
poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is
learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”18
18 Lorde, The Master’s Tools, 12.
Inuit knew how to create powerful tools for survival using only what was available. Indigenous knowledge-production guides a radical understanding of technology and other species, which could bring about the necessary onto-epistemological change.
AMULETS made from materials like feathers, skin, claws and teeth traditionally represented
people, plants or animals. Not only the item itself, but the process of creating it, was equally important as
the amulet absorbs and reflects the intentions of its maker.
Storytelling for Survival1
THE MYTH of the dead’s passing to the underworld, Adlivun, illustrated by Karaale Andreassen.
1 I adopt this title from the experimental documentary film Storytelling for Earthly Survival from 2016 where Fabrizio Terranova portrays Donna Harraway and her application of Haudenosaunee seven generations principle to storytelling.
The genocidal history of Western civilisation teaches the dangers of celebrating the colonizers, of relying
exclusively on scientific models and written languages, centering the white man who turns all other living and
non-living beings into his property. Thus land back
is not merely taking over a physical property, but
caring for the land as a spiritual, ecological and historical responsibility as Inuit used to carry out with
full autonomy. Once arrived at the realization that Denmark
2 Dale, Danmark Var Verdens Syvendestørste Slavehandler.
was never small and innocent as the Little
, but still benefits from the colonization of Greenland, and from privileges inherited from a time
as the world’s seventh biggest slave-trader, a mourning of the stories no longer being told begins, and new
stories can emerge.2
SINGING BATTLES traditionally solved conflicts in a creative and communal manner. Hans Egede
made this illustration and tried to anihillate the practice and the drum.
In Greenland Inuit storytelling has always played an active role in education and parenting. Many of the central
myths were told to discipline children, and instill a moral codex to improve the wellbeing of the community.
Drama, dance and drum-music accompanied rituals and celebrations and the ancestral stories that survived
colonization, are today listed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. In the ‘The Fight for Greenland’
Panninguaq explains to her daughter that the lines under her skin, which cross her fingers, used to be tattooed
in honour of the Mother of
3 Sorento, The Fight for Greenland. 0:20:19 the Sea
to secure a peaceful afterlife for the soul.3
These lines indicate
where the fingers of Mother of the Sea
were cut, before her transformation, as traditionally, tattoos
marked the passing from childhood to femalehood and protected women against anything from evil spirits to
PANNINGUAQ explains to her daughter the Inuit belief behind her fifinger tattoos, as she
reads a Greenlandic bedtime story about the Mother of the Sea.
The inherently female practice of tattooing was one of the first traditions to vanish when the colonial
introduction of Christianity made all creation stories about Adam and Eve. It is only in recent years that
the sacred markings have resurfaced as Western beauty ideals prevail beyond the impact of the church.
Greenlandic tattoo-artist and researcher Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, acknowledges the decolonial significance of the
traditional practice, but she insists that the tattoos are not revived to be Westernized, commercialized or used
as a political weapon for Greenlandic independence:
4 Jacobsen, Decolonizing Technology: Crafting Indigenous Resistance.
0:12:08 “The most pressing point of my practice right now, is how we
as a people handle the finding and revival of old practices and avoid making it a weapon of the few, but
instead make it the healing of everybody. It is so very easy for our practice to be taken over and politicized
like it is happening now, and I am eager to change that, because it takes the opportunity away from the whole
group to benefit from getting to know our culture again, and to reconnect with the deeper layers of female
culture of the Inuit people.”4
The traditional tattoos make up an entire language, they tell stories of the person who
carries them, not just to be read by humans but also by spirits.
5 Kakiornerit or Tuniit are Inuit terms for the practice. Rosing, Fortællinger Om INUA, 155-174. For further reference see Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.
Women would be tattooed with the patterns from
their family, and when marrying adopt designs from their husband’s ancestors, passing the combination
on to their daughters.5
The symbols are also specific to geography, e.g. West-Greenlanders and East-Greenlanders
would be tattooed differently according to differences in their hunting techniques.
YOUNG GREENLANDIC people of all genders are reclaiming the sacred markings of their
ancestors, as Indigenous rights and LGBTQ activist Seqininnguaq Lynge Poulsen.
For more than four-thousand years, the tattoos were practised by Inuit in all Arctic regions, Jacobsen explains
how they are gaining popularity with the young: “Today they just get the patterns that they like, they recognize
the whole package as an Inuit identity marker, but really if you know how to read and utilize the tattoos there
is great healing to get from them. I have tattooed hundreds of Inuit women across our territories and I’ve seen
that it works, there is a magic!” Jacobsen describes the craft as something spiritual outside of a commercial
practice, where a client requests from a catalogue, instead she practices tattooing as a way of healing
communities. But this Jacobsen is not able to legally perform where she lives in Denmark.
EIGHT MUMMIES were excavated in Qilakitsoq, in 1972. The adult Inuit women bore facial
markings, and are estimated to have died in 1475.
6 Jacobsen, Decolonizing Technology: Crafting Indigenous Resistance.
Given the Arctic climate traditional clothing covered most of the body, so majority of the patterns were designed for face
and hands, but Danish law forbids tattooing from the neck and up, and from the wrists and
7 United Nations, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 11
Denmark is home to the second biggest Inuit minority in the world we
make no exception from the law when it is
actually requested, contradicting the UNDRIP which we
signed in 2007: “§11.1 Indigenous peoples have the right
to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect
and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as (...) designs, ceremonies,
technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.”7
Legalized or not Jacobsen’s practice and her extensive research into Inuit heritage provides an empowerment that
will continue to serve Greenlandic self-perception for generations. That the
8 By Greenlanders in this case, naturally I mean those of Inuit heritage. I do not encourage the deeply offensive cultural appropriation taking place in Denmark and other Western contexts, where tribal tattoos are copied because they are perceived as exotic.
tattoos have not recovered all of
their original signification, makes space for artistic and deeply personal interpretations for Greenlanders8
today. Inuit patterns appearing on skin already decorated by contemporary tattoos, or on the pedestals of
colonizers, illustrate how Inuit tattooing is not simply a rediscovery of lost knowledge, it is an expansion of
the past stimulating the imagination of Indigenous futures.
ILLUSTRATION of tattoo patterns by unknown Cupper Inuit collected by Knud Rasmussen, ca. 1923
National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.
This is vital work in a context where Indigenous culture is widely understood as belonging to the past.
Colonization stories position indigeneity as incommensurable with modern life, as something that inevitably had
to die out as it could not co-exist with civilization. This is why Anishinaabe theorist Gerald Vizenor speaks of
‘survivance’ combining the words survival and resistance: “Most importantly, survivance
establishes Native identity in the present, as opposed to viewing Native experience as a relic of the past,
consigned to museum exhibits and to the nostalgic longing for a return to the noble, savage fictional contact
narratives in the guise of an alien race (...)”9 Distanced from victimhood, survivance indicates the
collective experience of existing in spite of an ongoing genocide, most often portrayed as an one-time-event of
the past. Despite our ceaseless efforts to erase, christen, assimilate, disappear and forget entire populations,
native researchers and cultural workers inscribe Indigenous lives into cyberspace, public space, and any other space we think of as blank.
9 Or endurance in some readings. Dillon, Ray Bradbury’s Survivance Stories, 57-69
The figure of the mermaid has been present since the dawn of humanity, and can be traced across the globe with
representatives like the Japanese Ningyo, the Southeast Asian Suvannamaccha, the Assyrian
10 Trained on a dataset from the Google game Quick, Draw! the deep learning model sketch-rnn can draw mermaids without the help of a human.
and the West-European Melusine
. This cyborg identity is so contended, today
have their own unicode emoji and with the use of artificial intelligence unique mermaids can be
generated (see illustrations) from now until infinity.10
Whether physically dismembered, digitally disembodied, or rendered
into vast datasets, the mermaid’s capacity for survivance
makes her an inspiring idol for marginalized
identities everywhere. In USA afro-goddesses give rise to pop culture, as more and more female artists create hype around Black heritage. Famously Beyoncé paid homage to Yoruba water-goddess Oshun on her
visual album in 2016, while her sister Solange often refers to the mermaid and sea-deity Yemaya, central to
Afro-Cuban and Black diaspora in Latin America.
SOLANGE performing at Saturday Night Live in 2016.
YORUBA DEITY Yemaya as depicted in Princess Nokia’s Instagram post in June 2020.
As an instant response to the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020 rapper Princess Nokia, called upon her:
“Maferefun Yemaya. I pray to you virtuous mother, on behalf of your beautiful children who so dearly need your
help right now. I call on you Yemaya, to shield us with your Ashe.11 and light, and protect
11 Similar to Inua, Ashe is the philosophical concept in West-African Yoruba beliefs, signifying a power inherent in everything from plants, to rocks, to humans, to ancestors, to Gods. your children from the
harm of white supremacy. Maferefun Yemaya todo el dia, I call on you selfless mother to bring your children into
formation and give them the tools they need to succeed in dismantling the new world order and centuries long
systematic racism that has ripped our families and cultures apart. Mother of all black children, mother of all
life, water and sea, I call on you ! (...)”12
12 Princess Nokia, “Maferefun Yemaya. I pray to you virtuous mother...”, 02.06.2020
In times of increasing instability and fear, younger generations of
Black Americans look East at their African roots, while Inuit Greenlanders look West towards their ancestors
in North America, to find spiritual empowerment and artistic inspiration.
In a globalized world, where every physical and digital corner has been invaded by colonial capitalism, a shared
resistance against white supremacy provides a different kind of hope than that of Hans Egede. Yet there are very
specific vocabularies and aesthetics, local to every struggle, that call not just for statements but for particular actions. Just as nuclear waste is a multinational, multi-generational threat to all life, there is a need for
multi-species thinking in what might be a final chapter of human life on Earth. Will Inuit heritage survive mainstream attention, like the sculpture of Sasuma Arnaa defies the
13 The findings of 17th century Greenlandic spearheads in the soil surrounding the metro construction in Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen, shed light on the abductions of Inuit. See Johannsen, Jagtspyd Sladrer.
rising sea-level in Nuuk? Will the Little Mermaid
evolve through planetary crisis, or is she nothing more than a racist fish
to the harbour of Copenhagen, it is easy to ignore traces of past encounters, yet more and more stolen goods
reach the surface as reconstructions bring up evidence of the exploitation of Greenland.13
IN JULY 2020 the little mermaid was again making a statement. This time she had stickers on
her knees and nipples, and the words racist fish spray painted on her stone.
The marble blocks from Maamorilik were buried under the Royal Greenland Dock until it turned tourist-attracting
food-market. These stories of stones, places and people are deeply intertwined with colonization, but not in the
dominant narratives which cast Denmark as a benevolent and civilized nation. Most stories, of women like the one
arrested in Christiania, go untold, because rarely do we listen to how these stories end. The Danish state keeps
quiet no matter the severity of the suicide crisis in Greenland, and it is hard to imagine just how deep the
silence is. How long before we see our reflection in their suffering? What hiddem treasures will reveal themselves in
the colonial soil? How many more statues will be dumped in the harbour?
14 The term white innocence coined by Gloria Wekker with her 2016 book by the same name. Wekker’s analysis of Dutch racism and the claim to innocence is in many ways applicable to the Danish, and as colonial neighbours Denmark and the Netherlands were initially competing over dominance of Greenlandic territory.
Perhaps only when Greenland gains full independence, will the Danish prince wake up to find there is no kingdom left.
Until then, the most urgent task is to minimize our contribution to the ongoing pain. Apologies are far
from enough, but they are the very first step on the path away from ‘celebrating the colonizers’. No more
concern should be paid to white fragility as white supremacy is indeed a threat to public health, harming
those who have been left invisible to systems which deem them ‘unfit’. For inclusive systems to come into existence, designers
need to dig deep into the terrain they engage with, and realize that creation and destruction goes hand in hand.
In this context, respectful design is actively questioning existing paradigms, and one's own position and
privileges within them. It is avoiding stereotypical and racialized aesthetics, and reversing the gaze to
critically examine our own colonial habits, so that colonized bodies are no longer scrutinized in the eye of
technology but actively reshaping it. As creative work becomes more precarious and art-history and design canons
open up to non-conforming knowledges, perhaps survival can be introduced as an academic skill. New curricula
have the potential to shatter the myth of white innocence, and educate about the toxic forces of “good
MOTHER OF THE SEA transforms into a gigantic Godess as her fingers become animals of the sea.
Greenland should by no means be compared to Denmark, and in positioning the Mother of the Sea in contrast
to the Little Mermaid, I risk trivializing and confusing struggles which are incommensurable. Women’s
emancipation does not equal decolonization, anti-racism does not equal decolonization, throwing old statues in
the harbour does not equal it either—though it could be a step in that direction, it might also be a slick
way to get rid of the evidence—an attempt to escape the discomforting guilt, a move to innocence.
Nevertheless, what sea goddesses across the globe have in common
15 Qarrtsiluni means “while something is waiting to burst” and describes the practice before celebrating the soul of the whale, when traditionally Inuit would remain silent to prepare new songs and fresh words for calling upon the spirits. Jørgensen, Sjæl Gør Dig Smuk, 190-191
is their capacity for transformation and
fertility. The mermaid as a storytelling device, has the ability to remould and dismantle narratives from below.
Despite efforts to make the mermaid an innocent and powerless figure for white consumption, she resurrects at
the intersection of human and animal, of life and death. Out of darkness and silence real
change can erupt like
bubbles in the deep rising to the surface to burst.15
We might not live long enough to see it, but the Mother of the Sea
“These places of possibility within ourselves are dark because they are ancient and hidden; they have survived and grown strong through darkness. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark,
it is ancient, and it is deep.”
Lorde, Sister Outsider, 36-37.
ANONYME BILLEDKUNSTNERE. DET KGL. DANSKE
KUNSTAKADEMIS GRUNDLÆGGER SMIDT I HAVNEN, IDOART.DK, 6 Nov. 2020.
ARENDT, HANNAH, Responsibility and Judgment, Schocken, 2009.
BJERREGAARD, PETER, And Christina V. L. Larsen. “Three Lifestyle-Related Issues of Major Significance for
Public Health among the Inuit in Contemporary Greenland: A Review of Adverse Childhood Conditions, Obesity,
and Smoking in a Period of Social Transition.” Public Health Reviews, vol. 39, no. 1, 2018.
BRINGHURST, ROBERT. The Elements of Typographic Style. 3rd ed.,
Hartley and Marks Publishers, 2004.
CLIMATE SIGNALS.“Arctic Amplification.” June 18, 2020.
DALE, INOR. “Danmark Var
Verdens Syvendestørste Slavehandler.” Kristeligt Dagblad, 16 July 2012.
DECOLONISING DESIGN, “Decolonising Design Education: Ontologies, Strategies, Urgencies.”
Extra-Curricular: On and around the Topic of Self-Organized Learning, Curriculum, Experiments, and Alternatives
in Graphic Design Education, 76–91, edited by Jakob Lindgreen, Onomatopee, 2018.
ENGE, MARIANN. “‘No Coloniser
Deserves to Be on Top of a Mountain.’” Kunstkritikk, 22 June 2020.
FEDERICI, SILVIA. “On
Primitive Accumulation, Globalization and Reproduction.” Friktion Magasin, 2017.
FEDERICI, SILVIA, and melanie bonajo. “Wxtch Craft Lecture by Silvia
Federici ‘Reclaiming Magic as Subversive Practice’ Hosted by Melanie Bonajo.” Royal Academy of Art
The Hague (KABK), uploaded by Online Studium Generale, 12 Nov. 2020.
FEDERICI, SILVIA, and Patrick Farnsworth. “Beyond
the Periphery of the Skin: An Interview with Silvia Federici.” GODS & RADICALS PRESS, 21 July 2020.
FLORIS, LISE. “‘Eskimo’ Ice
Cream Treat Causes a Stir in Denmark.” The Globe and Mail, 8 Sept. 2020.
GRAM, KASPER DUNCAN. “22
Grønlandske Børn Tvunget Til Danmark: Nu Skal Der Sættes Historisk Punktum.” DR, Apr. 2019.
HANSEN, KLAUS GEORG. “Forsker: Grønland Er
Fortsat En Dansk Koloni.” Videnskab.Dk, 2 June 2017.
HARVEY, FIONA. “Greenland’s Ice
Melting Faster than at Any Time in Past 12,000 Years.” The Guardian, 1 Oct. 2020.
HENLEY, JON. “Greenland’s
Receding Icecap to Expose Top-Secret US Nuclear Project.” The Guardian, 21 Aug. 2019.
HOOGE, NIELS HENRIK and Friends of the Earth Denmark’s Uranium Group. “Kujataa – A Property
Surrounded by Mining Projects.” World Heritage Watch: World Heritage Watch Report 2020, Berlin,
World Heritage Watch, 2020, 80–84.
JACOBSEN, MAYA SIALUK. “Decolonizing Technology:
Crafting Indigenous Resistance.” ALT_CPH 2020, uploaded by Salon Hysteria, 27 Aug. 2020.
JAKOBSEN, MERETE DEMANT. Shamanism: Traditional and Contemporary Approaches to the Mastery of Spirits and
Berghahn Books, 1999.
JØRGENSEN, OLE. Sjæl Gør Dig Smuk: Om Inuit Menneskene, 1981, 190-191.
Ed. Doris and Stig Thornsholm, Aarhus.
JEREMIASSEN, APOLLO. “Straf Og Fængsel i
KNR, 17 June 2013.
JEX, CATHERINE. “Klimamodeller
Undervurderer Kraftig Afsmeltning På Grønlands.” Videnskab.Dk, 6 Dec. 2018.
JOSEFSEN, KNUD. “Tur: Grønland
Og Christianshavn.” Christianshavns Kvarter, 22 Sept. 2019.
JOSEFSEN, KNUD, and Marianne Levinsen. “Historien Om
Granitblokkene På Torvet.” Christianshavns Kvarter, uploaded by Christianshavns Kvarter, 1 May 2019.
MINISTERIET FOR BØRN, LIGESTILLING, INTEGRATION OG SOCIAL FORHOLD, "Juridisk Faderløse Får Nye Rettigheder."
NATIONALMUSEETS SAMLINGER ONLINE, “Koloniudstillingen i
Tivoli, 1905.” National Museum of Denmark. Accessed 2 Dec. 2020.
KREBS, MARTINE LIND, and Astrid Nonbo Andersen. “Activists
Demand Mental Decolonization in Greenland.” Justiceinfo.Net, 31 Aug. 2020.
LORDE, AUDRE. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, 1984.
Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press, 2007.
MACDONALD-DUPUIS, NATASHA. “The
Little-Known History of How the Canadian Government Made Inuit Wear ‘Eskimo Tags.’” VICE, 16 Dec.
MARQUARDT, OLE. “Greenland’s Demography, 1700-2000: The Interplay of Economic Activities and Religion.”
Études/Inuit/Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 2004, 47–69.
MBEMBE, ACHILLE “Necropolitics.” Public Culture, vol. 15, no. 1, 2003, 11–40.
MBEMBE, ACHILLE. "“Decolonizing
Knowledge and the Question of the Archive.” Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER),
University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, 2015.
MCMILLAN, GLORIA, et al. Ray Bradbury’s Survivance Stories. Illustrated, McFarland & Company, 2013.
NIVIÂNA, AKA. “Manifesto: The System
Exposing Itself.” Kultwatch, 27 June 2020.
PATER, RUBEN. The Politics of Design: A (Not So) Global Design Manual for Visual Communication.
Laurence King Publishing, 2016.
Kan Ikke Huske Det. Jeg Havde Drukket Vodka, Bailey, Guld Tuborg.’” Www.Bt.Dk, 2 June 2018.
ROSING, JENS. “Fortællinger Om
INUA.” Tidskriftet Grønland, vol. 05, 1998.
SCHULTZ-NIELSEN, JORGEN. “Knap 3 Mio. Afsat Til Hans
Egede-Fejring.” Sermitsiaq AG, 5 Apr. 2019.
SEIDING, INGE. “Colonial
Categories of Rule – Mixed Marriages and Families in Greenland around 1800.” Kontur, no. 22, 2011.
TRIER, TROELS. “Hør
Lyden: Her Spørger Politiet Om Hjemløse Daniel Er Grønlænder.” DR, 21 Dec. 2014.
TUCK, EVE, AND K. WAYNE YANG. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education
& Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, 6.
TURNOWSKY, WALTER. “Antallet Af Selvmord Falder - Men Ikke i
Grønland.” Sermitsiaq.AG, 8 Feb. 2019.
UNITED NATIONS. “United
Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” United Nations For Indigenous Peoples, 12
WIKIPEDIA CONTRIBUTORS.“1968 Thule Air Base
B-52 Crash.” Wikipedia, 1 Dec. 2020.
WIKIPEDIA CONTRIBUTORS. “Hans Egede.” Wikipedia, 1 Dec.
WILLE, ANDREAS, and Christine Hyldal. “Status
På Afstemning: Hans Egede Rokker Sig Ikke En Centimeter.” KNR, 15 July 2020.
WILLERSLEV, RANE. “Rane
Willerslev: Busteaktionen Rejser En Vigtig Debat—Men Prisen Er for Høj.” Berlingske.Dk, 6 Dec.