Pia Arke Silences and Stories

Pia Arke, Krabbe 1906/Jensen 1947, 2005. Courtesy private collection. © Pia Arke Estate

In February 2024, John Hansard Gallery, in collaboration with KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, presents the first major survey of Danish-Greenlandic artist Pia Arke (1958–2007) to be shown outside of Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), and the Nordic countries.

Seldom exhibited outside the Scandinavian context, this exhibition of Arke’s work is both timely and long overdue. It will clearly assert Pia Arke as a significant international figure within both artistic practice and post-colonial discourse. Pia Arke: Silences and Stories is curated by Ros Carter, Head of Programme (Senior Curator) at John Hansard Gallery. The partner exhibition, Pia Arke: Arctic Hysteria, will be shown at KW in Summer 2024, curated by Sofie Krogh Christensen, Associate Curator at KW.

Pia Arke made work that strove to make visible the colonial and complex relationship between Denmark and Greenland, and to address significant questions of identity and representation. Born in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) to a Greenlandic mother and a Danish father, Arke spoke of an identity that sat outside of being defined as either Danish or Greenlandic; a ‘third place’ that allowed for hybridity and resisted polarisation. Tragically, Arke died before she could experience the growing importance and interest in her work, with her now recognised as one of the Nordic region’s most important postcolonial voices. By working closely with the Pia Arke Estate, John Hansard Gallery is mounting a major survey of her work, including photography, film, sculpture, performance, writing, and rare archival material, amassed from a range of key collections, archives and individuals throughout Scandinavia. We will also re-create Arke’s famous life-size camera obscura, which she used to create her seminal pinhole camera photographs. The original has long since disappeared, but some original elements remain, which will be incorporated into the re-creation.

What makes Arke’s work of such current significance is how it resonates so strongly with today’s globally important issues. Colonial histories, nationhood, Indigenous identity and female representation, are all highlighted and interrogated by Arke’s questioning approach (along with present day issues of the impact of climate change and global economics on Indigenous communities within Greenland and throughout the arctic regions.) Arke often referred to the ‘culture of silence’ around colonial relationships, especially the one she was born into. The exhibition’s title refers to how a country’s culture and history is shaped not only by what is said, but also by what remains silent.

The exhibition is being organised in close collaboration with the Pia Arke Estate and works are being loaned from major collections across the Nordic region, including: Louisiana Museum, Kunstmuseum Brandts and Malmö Art Museum, as well as the Estate itself and key individuals linked with Arke.

Film Programme
Alongside Pia Arke: Silences and Stories, there will be an accompanying film programme which examines environmental issues and colonial legacy within present-day Greenland. Featuring projects such as Kuannersuit; Kvanefjeld, by artists Lise Autogena & Joshua Portway, and film works by contemporary artists working in Greenland and Denmark today, including: Julie Edel Hardenberg, Inuk Silis Høegh & Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen and Arnajaraq Støvlbaek.

A new publication on Pia Arke’s work will be available in late April 2024, co-published by John Hansard Gallery and KW Institute. It will include texts by Alice Maude-Roxby, Tiara Roxanne, Mette Sandbye, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Nivi Christensen, Siri Paulsen, Sofie Krogh Christensen and Ros Carter.

KW will subsequently present Pia Arke: Arctic Hysteria from 6 July – 20 October 2024.

With special thanks to the Pia Arke Estate and Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark. Grateful thanks also to Kunstmuseum Brandts, Denmark, Malmö Art Museum, Sweden, and all private lenders.

Exhibition research at John Hansard Gallery supported by The Art Fund (Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant).

Pia Arke
Pia Arke (b. 1958, Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland, d. 2007, Copenhagen, Denmark) was a Danish-Greenlandic visual and performance artist, writer and photographer. She is remembered for her self-portraits, landscape photographs, collage works and writing which strove to present the complex ethnic and cultural relationships between Denmark and Greenland. In 1990, the artist developed her own hand-built, life-size camera obscura to photograph the landscapes of Greenland that she had known as a child. Her works and accompanying texts encouraged Denmark to re-examine their colonial history with Greenland. As a result of the artistic research which she practiced for two decades, Pia Arke is becoming increasingly acknowledged as one of the Nordic region’s most important postcolonial critics.

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