– Autumn/Winter 2017

On Pia Arke

Stefan Jonsson

Pia Arke, stills from Arktisk hysteri (Arctic Hysteria), 1996, video, 5min 55sec. Courtesy Søren Arke Petersen and the Estate of Pia Arke, Copenhagen


Pia Arke’s work reminds Danes and Europeans of a history they never got to know, or were taught not to know, because it happened overseas. It began to be shown and discussed at the beginning of the 1990s, a period when notions of globalisation offered new models for understanding the dynamics of the world and exposed neglected historical and aesthetic issues. Among the most important of these issues were the colonial legacies of Western European states. In this context, Pia Arke’s interrogations of the suppressed past of Denmark’s relationship with Greenland began to resonate. The daughter of an Inuit seamstress and a

  1. For further elaboration of this concept, see my ‘Disclosing the World Order: Decolonial Gestures in the Artistic Work of Pia Arke’, Third Text, vol.27, no.2, 2013, pp.242–59.

  2. Pia Arke with Stefan Jonsson, Stories from Scoresbysund: Photography, Colonisation and Mapping (trilingual edition in English, Greenlandic and Danish, translations by John Kendal, Jessie Kleeman and Stephen Heilmann), Copenhagen: Kuratorisk Aktion and Pia Arke Selskabet, 2010, p. 13. Originally published in Danish as Scorsebysundhistorier: Fotografier, kolonisering og kortlæggning, Copenhagen: Borgen forlag, 2003.

  3. P. Arke, ‘Etnoæstetik', ARK, no.17, 1995.

  4. For a comprehensive presentation of Pia Arke’s oeuvre and reproductions of her work, see Kuratorisk Aktion (ed.), TUPILAKOSAURUS: An Incomplete(able) Survey of Pia Arke’s Artistic Work and Research, Copenhagen: Kuratorisk Aktion, 2012.

  5. Frederikke Hansen and Tone Olaf Nielsen, with support from the Pia Arke Society, organised the retrospective ‘TUPILAKOSAURUS: Pia Arke’s Issue with Art, Ethnicity, and Colonialism, 1981– 2006’. The exhibition was shown at Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art and the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen 8 January–14 February 2010; at Katuaq – Cultural Centre of Greenland and Greenland’s National Museum and Archives, Nuuk, 5 March–4 April 2010; and Bildmuseet, Umeå, 6 June–5 September 2010.

  6. Quoted in Kuratorisk Aktion, ‘Arctic Hysteria: The Greenlandic Woman’s Body as Battlefield’, in Kuratorisk Aktion (ed.), TUPILAKOSAURUS, op. cit., p.73.

  7. Vanessa Gregory, ‘The Unforgettable Pia Arke’, Hakai Magazine, 14 February 2017, available at http://bit.ly/2kuTtfM (last accessed on 11 May 2017).

  8. See Ejnar Mikkelsen, Scoresbysundkolonien, reprint of Tidsskriftet Grønland: ‘Scoresbysunds grundlæggelse fortalt af Ejnar Mikkelsen’, Tidsskriftet Grønland, vol.37, no.7/8, 1989. This is the most substantial Danish colonial account of the settlement’s history.

  9. See Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1939, ed. Abiola Irele), Ibadan: New Horn Press, 1994.

  10. Letter from the artist, c.1997.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Erik Gant, ‘The “Arke” typical/Pia Arke’, Katalog, vol.8, no.3, Spring 1996, pp.14–17.