Writings"Negotiating Postcolonial Identity"

By Mette Sandbye, Art Critic, Professor in Photography at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at Copenhagen University.

Excerpt from Essay in the book, Adjusting the Lens, edited by Sigrid Lien and Hilde Wallem Nielssen

Published in UBC Press, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 2020.

Adjusting the Lens
Indigenous Activism, Colonial Legacies, and Photographic Heritage

Edited by Sigrid Lien and Hilde Wallem Nielssen. UBC Press: https://www.ubcpress.ca/adjusting-the-lens. Lien, Sigrid & Nielssen, Hilde (eds.): Colonial Legacies and Decolonial Activism in Indigenous Photography. Canada: University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 2020.

Excerpt from Mette Sandbyes essay: Negotiating Postcolonial Identity: A Consideration of Different Strategies of Photography as Archive, Collaborative Aesthetics and Storytelling in Contemporary Greenland.
“The Future Belongs to Us”: Photography as participatory aesthetics and storytelling
Between 2015 and 2018, Tina Enghoff, a Danish photographer, and Peter Berliner, a professor of psychology and director of the Centre for Children, Youth and Family Research at Ilisimatusarfik. As such her project is related to the Canadian “Project Naming”, which enables indigenous peoples to take part in identifying people in photographs stored in Library and Archives Canada. As the researchers behind the project write on their website: “Since 2002, approximately 10,000 images have been digitized, and several thousand Inuit, First Nations and the Métis Nation individuals, activities, and places have been identified. Information provided by different generations of Indigenous peoples has been added to the records in the database, and made available to the public” (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/aboriginal-heritage/project-naming/Pages/introduction.aspx).
(Greenland’s university), carried out a project called Siunissaq uagut pigaarput (“The Future Belongs to Us”,). The project took place in two small towns in Greenland: Tasiilaq in Eastern Greenland, until 1992 named Ammassalik (the place from which Pia Arke’s ancestors were transported to found Scoresbysund) and Nanortalik in Southern Greenland. Around 2,000 people live in Tasiilaq, and 1,200 in Nanortalik. In total the project involved around 400 children and young people aged between 12 and 25 and lasted three years. The project grew out of a frustration at the fact that although a lot of documentation proves a whole range of rather severe social problems in Greenland, little has been done and little has succeeded in improving the situation. The goal of the project was to provide empowerment and capacity-building for children and young people, encouraging them to exercise their rights according to the UN Children’s Convention. The strategy of the project was to involve children and young people in artistic activities through participatory photography workshops and by focusing on important issues in their daily lives, and at the same time carry out new research.
The background of the project was the huge social problems that dominate many of the small towns of Greenland and result in severe neglect of children. Around a third of all children in Greenland are estimated to have experienced some form of sexual abuse. Many grow up with violence in the home, where alcoholism is also considered to be a major problem. Approximately 20% of the adults in Nanortalik and Tasiilaq are unemployed. According to an initial report on the project, written by Peter Berliner, it was based on ideas, values and aims such as supporting the community; collaboration in mutually reciprocal relations; local ownership; creating context-based narratives; and a focus on strengths as opposed to weaknesses and problems, which many other social projects focus on (Berliner et al., 2016). These imply an ethical obligation to contribute to what Berliner calls “the good life” (ibid.). The idea was to produce collective projects, strategies and visions based on the already existing resources in the communities. The project, which was funded by the Bikuben Foundation, consisted of many small events and workshops. These were given titles starting with the word ‘our’, such as “Our Lives”, “Our Projects”, “Our Family” and “Our Stories”.
Here I will examine the project’s two main outcomes: Our Rights – Our Lives (2015), a book based on photography workshops focusing on ‘the good life’ in relation to the UN Children’s Convention, and Our Food (2016), a book based on cooking and photography workshops. Both of these projects were photography-based, collaborative workshops, resulting in the production and household distribution of two photobooks. Photography was used because of its democratic and accessible production process and the children’s familiarity with the medium. Enghoff and Berliner provided the participants with high-quality but user-friendly cameras, and the images were processed digitally in the villages. The books were printed in Denmark and shipped back to the two villages. As Tina Enghoff expresses it:
When photography is used in the psycho-social workshops in Greenland, it provides a democratic, inclusive and thus respectful medium through which to visualize emotions and experiences. Not everyone is good at drawing, for example, but a photograph creates a playing field for everyone, since everyone can take a photo. Photography is quite straightforward, even for people who might never have thought about using it this way before. It provides a tool for expressing yourself authentically, to show your particular experience of what matters in a way that makes it visible to others and yourself. Young people in Greenland show a great willingness to use photography in this way. It allows them to make what is meaningful in life visual and visible. And people can relate to it. Young people in Greenland take very strong and genuine pictures that resonate deeply with the viewer and elicit recognition and empathy (Berliner and Enghoff 2019, my translation).
Our Rights – Our Lives was the result of a series of workshops in the two towns in 2015 involving more than 60 young people. In the book, colour photographs taken during the workshops are accompanied by quotes from a version of the UN Convention of Children’s Rights formulated by MIO, the Greenlandic centre for children’s rights, which was established in 2012 in order to communicate and work with children’s rights in Greenland. The project website describes the book as follows: “A book about the rights of children and young people and their views of what constitutes ‘a good life’. Their vision of a good life. Pictures and texts in the book were created by the young people”.
Both books were printed in hardcover by the high-quality Danish printing house Narayana. The individual photographers are not named, but the full names of all participants are listed in each book. They were published with texts in Greenlandic and Danish and were distributed to all households in Nanortalik and Tasiilaq in 2015 and 2016. To be continued....