Greenlandic 'Qanga' exhibit explores early life in the Arctic through novel installation

Daily News correspondentNovember 14, 2013 

  • Qanga: Drawing the Past

    On view: Nov. 17 to Jan. 12, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 12 to 6 p.m. Sun., closed Mondays
    Cost: $10-$15 for adults, $7 for children ages 3-12, free for children 2 years and younger
    Location: Anchorage Museum, 625 C Street

Maybe you've seen the pages of a graphic novel given new life in a movie theater or on a television screen, but have you have stepped inside the pages? That's the impression the curators of "Qanga: Drawing the Past" hope to convey when the exhibit opens Sunday at the Anchorage Museum.

The exhibit draws upon the watercolors Greenlandic artist Nuka Godtfredsen created for a series of graphic novels depicting the history of early human settlement in Greenland. The graphic novels came after the success of a coffee table book published by the Greenland National Museum and Archive and the National Museum of Denmark, which offered insights into Arctic prehistory based on newly discovered archaeological evidence.

The book proved popular, but Bjarne Grønnow, a Danish research professor and part of the team of archeologists who produced the text, explained in an email to Play that the traditional format of the book failed to reach the attention of the youth in Greenland.

"As several researchers at SILA -- the Greenland Research Centre at the Ethnographic Collections -- are 'cartoon-nerds,' we got the idea that creating a graphic novel was a new and promising way to reach our 'missing' audience," Grønnow explained.

The first two of a planned four volumes have been published in Greenlandic, Danish and English: "The First Steps" and "The Ermine." The focus is on what Grønnow calls four "tipping points" in Greenland's history: the arrival of humans 4,000 years ago, "the cultural meeting between the last of the palaeo-Eskimos (Tunit) with the first Inuit about 1,000 years ago," colonization and trade with European whalers in the 18th century, and contact with Norse explorers.

But for the "Qanga" exhibit, Grønnow collaborated with Godtfredsen and fellow researcher Martin Appelt to create an experience that's perhaps more felt than studied, presenting watercolors from the graphic novels with music and soundscapes created specifically for the exhibit by Kristian Harting and Lill Rastad Bjørst.

Grønnow explained that the idea was to remove the artwork from the narrative framework and instead focus on the novels' themes "in an attempt to make the illustrations tell new stories and emphasize their artistic aspects rather than their didactive/pedagogic aspects, which are emphasized in the volumes."

Having first been presented in Copenhagen and Reykjavik, Iceland, "Qanga" will appear outside of Scandinavia for the first time Sunday, and Grønnow will offer insights into the exhibit in a lecture at the Anchorage Museum at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

"We hope that the general public will sense the deep layers of Greenlandic culture and history," Grønnow explained. "A combination of science and art can produce unexpected, unusual and interesting results that are not direct 'learnings,' but rather impressions of Arctic life worlds."

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