History of Art:Art, Race, and Resistance in the Arctic

Course content

2021 marks three centuries of colonial history between Denmark and Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland). The Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede’s colonial expedition in 1721 was one of several starting points for the establishment of Copenhagen as a center for colonial knowledge production on what was insistently understood as the terra incognita of the Arctic. This centuries-long investment in Polar Studies by missionaries, explorers, and settler researchers have resulted in the presence of large collections of Indigenous material culture in Denmark, not only from Kalaallit Nunaat, but from across all of the Arctic, including Sápmi, Siberia, Canada, and Alaska.

“Art, Race, and Resistance in the Arctic” seeks to examine the active roles that art and visual culture played in the Danish imperialist projects in the Arctic from the 16th century and onwards. Artists and image makers participated in colonial expeditions (as map makers, researchers, documentarists, propagandist), as ‘tourists’ and travelers, or as fascinated or critical onlookers from home. At the same time, colonized subjects used aesthetic practices in their resistance to colonial rule. With a special focus on questions of power, resistance, and agency in the “contact zone” between colonizer and the colonized, we will analyze how Indigenous material culture transformed as foreign empires encroached on Native land, forced new belief systems, and demanded cultural assimilation. We will also discuss Indigenous practices of resilience and survivance in the face of suppression and colonization, practices that remain central to the ongoing fight for Indigenous self-determination and cultural revitalization today.

Drawing on theoretical debates in colonial art history and museology as well as Indigenous studies and Indigenous methodologies, the course will have an empirical focus on the vast Arctic collections at the National Museum in Copenhagen. The weekly thematic lessons will take a starting point in selected objects and images from the collections by Indigenous makers such as Israil Nichodemus Gormansen, Johan Turi, and Jakob Danielsen, as well as settler artists including Mathias Blumenthal, Johannes Rach, Hans Heinrich Eegberg, and Emilie Demant-Hatt. Questions we will discuss include the contested state of repatriating Indigenous objects in European museums; collaboration and exchanges between Native artisans and European explorers; and how visual imagery aided colonial constructions of race, to only mention a few.

The course will include a mixture of lectures, discussions, and group-work, led by the two alternating instructors. Many of the lectures will take place in the interactive environs in the collections of the National Museum of Denmark. The museum’s vast holding of Arctic material and visual offer a variety of entry points (and thematic lessons) for students to understand how objects can manifest complex cultural entanglements. Students are expected to participate actively by giving presentations of texts and empirical material from the museum’s collection.

There will be developed a digital compendium for the course. In preparation students are invited to consult the following books and publications:


The Arctic: Culture and Climate. British Museum, 2020.


Sámi Art and Aesthetics: Contemporary Perspectives, eds. Svein Aamold, Elin Haugdal and Ulla Angkjær Jørgensen (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2017).

Inuit Prints, Japanese Inspiration. Early Printmaking in the Canadian Arctic (Gatineau: Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, 2011).

Pia Arke, Ethno-Aesthetics, Kuratorisk Aktion and Pia Arke Selskabet, 2010.


Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Greetings from Lappland: The Sami, Europe’s Forgotten People. London : Zed Press, 1983.


Heather Igloliorte, “Curating Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: Inuit Knowledge in the Qallunaat Art Museum,” Art Journal vol. 76, no. 2 (2017), 100-113.

Aron L. Crowell, “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: An Alaska Native Exhibition as Indigenous Knowledge Nexus,” Alaska Journal of Anthropology, vol. 18, no. 1 (2020): 4-22.

Gry Hedin and Ann-Sofie N. Gremaud, eds., Artistic Visions of the Anthropocene North: Climate Change and Nature in Art. (Routledge: 2019).

Cunera Buijs, “Shared Inuit Culture: European Museums and Arctic Communities,” Inuit Studies, vol 42, no. 1 (2018), 37-60.


Katya García-Antón (ed.): Sovereign Words: Indigenous Art, Curation and Criticism, Oslo: Office for Contemporary Art Norway / Amsterdam: Valiz, 2018.


Barbara Sjoholm, Black Fox: Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Feedback will be given during the course in relation to oral and written exercises, both individually and in groups. In addition, peer feedback is used in various exercises in connection with teaching. Feedback will be given along with the grade

Type of assessment
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 279
  • Guidance
  • 1
  • Exam
  • 84
  • English
  • 420


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master
Bachelor choice
Full Degree Master choice

1 semester

Fall 2021
Study board of Arts and Cultural Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of Arts and Cultural Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator
  • Mathias Danbolt   (7-67647165726f77436b7870316e7831676e)

Mathias Danbolt & Bart Pushaw

Saved on the 16-08-2021

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