In the making of her photo work Sapiitsut/Heroes the artist Julie Edel Hardenberg has collaborated closely with the photographer Lars Frederik Andersen. Together they made a series of film posters that in different ways mimic the genres we know from American and European feature films. These are comedies, crime films, martial arts films, love stories and children’s films. But none of the films advertised in the posters can be seen in the cinema; they don’t exist. If only they did, I think. I wouldn’t mind seeing Angussuit (in English: Real Men!), or Sangatak (in English: Rascal!). I want to see them because they are presented so attractively. But also because they immediately awaken my curiosity. What, I wonder, would a Greenlandic film be like? Would it be special, and if so, in what way?
Let me look back in time for a moment before I continue. Some years ago I spoke with the people behind a big demonstration in Nuuk calling for a strengthening of the production of art and culture in Greenland. They wanted to create some experiences in which Greenlanders can mirror themselves. ”We don’t want only to see films about characters called Bill or Jake, or only to see contemporary scenes from the Danish provinces or listen to songs about multi-storey buildings and motorways,” they said. ”We hunger for more films, plays and artworks about ourselves and our surroundings.”
Why is it so important to have local heroes?The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie has a possible answer to this question. As a child Adichie grew up in a society in which all accessible literature was in English or American. She read about blue-eyed, fair-haired children picking apples in the summer, who had pleasures and sorrows that she couldn’t relate to. The same was true for schoolchildren in Greenland.
Adichie stresses that it was not in itself a problem to read books about white children. It helped to widen her horizon and nourished her imagination. But an unintended consequence was that she instinctively felt that people like her, Nigerians, did not exist in literature. Only when she as a teenager discovered the sparse Nigerian literature that actually existed did Adichie find some tales thatplaced her own life in a literary context. And this experience somehow gave her personal story a place in history.
Motion pictures are the stuff that dreams are made of. They present exemplary, often moralizing tales in which there is no doubt about good and bad, and in whichthe former of course conquer the latter. It’s obviouslyproblematic when the majority of the heroic figures one can look up to have nothing in common with one’s own life and values.

But now back to Julie Edel Hardenberg’s film posters. The artist has assumed the role of film director, and together with her photographer, Lars Frederik Andersen from Deluxus Studio in Nuuk, she has borrowed from the language of dreams that Hollywood uses when heroes are to be made. But how often do we actually see a Greenlander as a superhero? Or just as the main character in a feature film?

The film industry has almost exclusively presented the Caucasian type, sharply followed by darker Afro-Americans, as the prototypes of a heroic figure. Bearing in mind how over the years various development strategies have in turn formulated the ideal of a good Greenlander (on the basis of European models, of course) and how great the cost has been for the Greenlandic language and Greenlandic self esteem, we register a particularly strong statement in Hardenberg’s consistent use of her fellow-countrymen in a cinematic context and in her presentation of a cross-section of the people who live in Greenland today. Not only does she succeed in one stroke compensating for the absence of Greenlanders in the dream industry, she also gets to present her very own version on what heroism is in a Greenlandic interpretation.

Instead of uncritically reproducing the language of Hollywood, Hardenberg presents us with her own version of (Greenland’s) heroes, in this context a selection of the 16,000 people who live in Nuuk. Even though it might seem so, the people she has portrayed are neither actors nor models. We meet the dustman, the fireman, the young student, the grandfather and grandchild, thegirlfriends and a host of other people who do not immediately fit the stereotypical idea of a Greenlander. And who for that matter do not fit the idea of what a hero is (with the exception perhaps of the fireman, who has so often been idealized by the American film industry…).
It would have been so simple for Julie Edel Hardenberg to point to the great Greenlandic personalities, to those who are known and loved and respected both at home and abroad. The hunter who has defied the rough climate to feed himself and his family. Or the national bard. Or the politician. He who led the nation through the independence process to self-government. She could also have pointed to the successful, highly educated young Greenlanders of recent years, whose standards of living are much higher than, for instance, the Danish level.
But Hardenberg does something different. She presents alternative heroic figures: he or she is not necessarily a hero in a classical Hollywood sense. He or she is more probably a sportsman or a girlfriend or someone’s fiancé. He or she may be all kinds of persons and therefore impossible to categorize. He is the man who collects your trash once a week. Or she fixes your teeth when they need attention. And so on.
In Hardenberg’s point of view, the heroic is to be found everywhere. And therefore we must ask ourselves what heroism is? The answer seems to be that it primarily has to do with something as simple as the daily round. And in some ways perhaps also with the feat of strength that is required of the country’s approximately 50,000 inhabitants to keep a small but top tuned modern society with its almost impossible logistic and economic conditions going. It can be done, thanks to the many local heroes that the artist presents to us.
Here in conclusion let me return to my starting-point. It would seem almost as if the demonstration in Nuuk which I mentioned earlier had been noticed. At any rate in the course of the last couple of years we have seen a number of feature films that are not only about, but also come from Greenland. These are films that for the most part tell good, exciting, different or grim stories about life in general and in Greenland in particular. Their reception has been overwhelming. The red carpet has been rolled out, VIPs have posed in front of the flash bulbs, and the general atmosphere has been tremendous, bubbling over with pride and enthusiasm. Greenland has now begun presenting its own heroes. With Julie Edel Hardenberg’s Sapiitsut we have received yet another importantcontribution to that development.
by
Iben Mondrup