The ArcticMainpage
Click to view
of this article
Art in the north - tourism and influences  
by Rósa Rut Þórisdóttir


Previous ChapterPrevious chapter Next chapterNext Chapter
Tourists influences on art
  Influences tourists have had on art throughout the world is known and written about by many.  Anthropologist, Christopher B Steiner (1994) has written on these influences on African art, the comodification and circulation of African objects in the international art market.  Aboriginal art in Oceania has also been a popular topic in this discussion.  Raymond Firth says that “the greatest influence for change in exotic art has, of course, been the impact of industrial society from the West.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Oceanic art, for example, lost much of its dynamic quality: its forms were flattened, its design impoverished, its inspiration faded.  Imitation at a commercial level has often occurred, with development of tourist art, souvenir art, airport art” (Firth 1992: 35).
  I on the other hand will discuss the situation in Iceland’s neighbour islands  Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  These three islands are often visited as one by tourists and categorised together in travel guide books.  The situation on the islands are similar from the point of view that they are all relatively new tourist spots and are colonies or former colonies of Denmark[1].  They are also countries inhabited by a population which has acclimatised to the north.  All three countries depend mostly on fishing or hunting as cultivated land is very scarce in all three countries.  The increase of the tourist industry has thus been welcomed to these areas. 
  Greenland differs from the other two as it is the only island which has indigenous people.  Iceland and the Faroe Islands have only been inhabited since the arrival of the Vikings[2].
  Greenland is a neighbouring island to Iceland with a population of only 56.000 though it is 20 times bigger than Iceland.  Greenland like Iceland, has had a recent increase in tourism, which has influenced the economies in both of the countries.  G. Enel is a French anthropologist who has written about art, artists and the art market in the small East-Coast village Kulusuk.  He says that the tupilaq[3] were formerly associated with shamanism but have taken the form of impersonal figurines.  Traditionally they were made out of driftwood but today they are made out of caribou horn and walrus tusk for the tourist market (Enel 1981: 128).  No one has ever found a genuine tupilaq so the figures the artists are making today are made to please the tourists who buy them.  It soon proved that the more bizarre and alarming the figure appeared, the more fascinating it was to the European purchasers   (Kaalund 1983: 67).    Enel also says that opportunities for work are limited on the east-coast, so the carving and selling of tupilaq  to the tourists is welcome for one’s daily needs.  The increase of craftsmen from the year 1966, when there where 22 craftsmen in the area, to the year 1976, when the study was done, was over 400% or 84 of the 121 adult men in the village had become craft makers.  In 1966 all the craftsmen were also hunters or had another profession, as the tupilaq making was only a supplement to the household.  In 1976 a few of them had become full time craftsmen (Enel 1981: 129).  

In 1998 and 1999 when I visited the village of Kulusuk this number had increased even further and numerous men had craft making as their main source of income.

  It is obvious the influences tourism has had on Greenlandic art.  The concept ‘art’, Kaalund states, “in the sense of non-functional decorative or art objects, was unknown in the old Eskimo society, so thoroughly where ornamentation, carving, and colour integrated into daily life and connected with implement culture and use in cultic life.  Only in recent times did the Greenlanders formulate a word for art: eqqumiisuliaat, meaning something made that is strange.  It was when Europeans began giving money for a figure or a drawing and the demand increased that this concept arose” (Kaalund, 1983: 89).  Among the Eskimos is no such thing as ‘art for art’s sake’.  Rather, art is for the sake of the people (Kaalund 1983).
  Faroe Islands
  The situation in the Faroe Islands is somewhat different as the Faroe Islands did not have any indigenous people.  Young Faroese artists go to Copenhagen, and occasionally Oslo and Bergen, for their education, and so Faroese art has become a branch of the Scandinavian tradition.  Thus, an outsider may soon become familiar with Faroese art, although certain aspects of it may seem unique.  It may be in the Scandinavian tradition, but it has developed under exceptional conditions, just as the Faroese may be called a Nordic country living under exceptional conditions (Føroysk List, 1983: 5).  The isolation of the people of the Faroe Islands and the lack of influence from the outside, inevitably leads to a kind of inbreeding among the public, the critics and the artists (Ibid.: 13).
  “I have seldom seen so much art as in Thorshavn,” says a traveller.  In so many places and in the homes of so many people.  The work  of the Faroese artists is seen hanging everywhere, in public buildings, schools, banks, businesses and in private homes.  The regular collective exhibitions of Faroese art draws large audiences, who like to buy and discuss art, at least Faroese art.  “I have also seldom seen so little trashy art, no shallow graphics, cheap posters, amateurism or semi-amateurism on the walls in people's homes in a small Scandinavian town” (Ibid.:14).  And yet despite the support of the public, there is a lot of pessimism among the artists themselves.  They are doubtful of the future of Faroese art and they fear that the small-scaled nature and isolation of Faroese art may prove to be insurmountable handicaps.  In the long run, they say 50,000 people and a couple of dozen artists will not be able to sustain a living artistic culture.  Naturally, there is a danger that it might stagnate and die from lack of nourishment.  At the same time, it is difficult to see how things could go so wrong while the need is so great (Ibid.: 15)
Previous ChapterPrevious chapter Next chapterNext Chapter
Art in the north-tourism and influences, by Rósa Rut Þórisdóttir.
Copyright Stefansson Arctic Institute and individual authors ©2000
Developed in partnership with the EU Raphael Programme