The Bloks

I was really off yesterday. Running around in crazyland. It got a little better once I got out of the house, ran the errands I needed to and then actually finished two pieces for my exhibition. I don't quite know how to describe them; they're not photos or paintings but they're both concrete works in wooden frames so I'm not sure I can call them installations either. I feel like I should call them "arts & crafts" but that's a bad thing. When I say that, I can see  with my mind's eye Tim Gunn making that tiny, sophisticated but yet so discouraging grimace and headshake.

It's raining today, so Nuuk is as ugly and grey as Oulu ever was. It's a good day to post some photos of the "Bloks", a row of old and super ugly grey concrete buildings situated right at the center of the city. I think there are eight of them left now, plus another set of - dare I say it - even uglier ones near the waterfront. There used to be more but a few of them have been torn down.

These houses were built in the 1950s when the Danish government decided to move a lot of Greenlanders to Nuuk from the settlements against their will. So from nature and traditional lifestyle to this, doesn't it sound lovely? Yeah, it really doesn't. There were a lot of issues when people tried to adjust to living in small, square apartments after huts and houses, such as "coagulated blood clogging up the drainage" when fishermen tried to use bathtubs for cleaning and carving their catch.

Politically, the bloks were a big problem, I think to this day they represent the Danes lording over Greenlanders and forcing them into boxes they don't want to or even can't be in. The buildings have deteriorated a lot over time and while some apartments have been fixed and look nice on the inside, on the outside they're an eyesore, to put it mildly. And as they're right in the middle of the city, you can't really escape them. In a way they have reached a kind of a cult status and are sometimes seen "so depressing that it's almost an attraction itself."

We have something like that in Oulu too. It's called Itä-Tuira and all the hipsters love it. As a person who has lived there as a child, I do not share their love. It's a scary place where you might be accosted by an old, drunken man without pants or a dude swinging an axe in a local trash heap some people call a pub. I know there are nice spots and some people like that 60s or 70s grey, blocky aesthetic but I despise it with all of my heart.

I think Greenlanders have been trying to give the bloks a kind of a facelift, they have artworks painted on their sides, such as this lovely lady I see every day from my balcony. There's actually also a polar bear in that mural but I only realized it recently when the snow melted enough for me to see the ears of the bear. Still can't see it from my balcony, only from the side if I take a peek behind the mountain of snow. At the moment, I think all of the bloks are taking their dying breaths and will slowly be demolished, one by one. From what I've heard, people are ambiguous about them: the buildings are ugly, some of them have a bad reputation, they're a reminder of a time when Greenlanders had less control of their own destiny. But at the same time, they've been there for so long that maybe people have developed a kind of grudging affection for them and sometimes you do need a reminder of past evils to shape the future. 

In here it seems to be a habit to keep the doors open to the hallways, so they're filled with graffiti and stuff I don't even want to talk about. I guess a lot of homeless people live there when it's too cold to be outside (which is maybe 90% of the year). The hallways make these buildings look worse than what they really are, I guess. I know people choose to live in the bloks so maybe they're not as infamous as I thought. But they're still quite scary. I don't think I'd choose to live there.

Looking at these buildings and their surroundings, it's difficult for me to tell what life is like for the average, not-so-well-to-do Greenlander. I've never been rich and like I said earlier, my family used to live in apartments a bit similar to these. I know there are a lot of issues here, I know people are poor and kids start drinking and smoking and having sex really early. Despite being poor, I've lived quite a sheltered life because both of my parents have good education and my mom is pretty religious so I was always a good, quiet type of girl who drank her first drink when she was way over 18. I feel weird trying to analyze the socio-economic situation here, as a white woman who has education and can scrounge up enough money to spend two months in an art residency.

I still feel it should be brought to attention, even if I don't know what to say about it. In here, it can be really hard to get a good education and a lot of young people drop out of school because they don't feel like they fit in. They end up in bad situations. And then their kids follow. There's a lot of unemployment, lot of alcoholism, lot of violence. Education seems to be pretty important but it can be hard to get it if you come from a small settlement and only know Greenlandic. In school you'd have to learn Danish to have access to proper education and just adjusting to a life in a big city is probably hard enough. I've heard different sides of this, I've heard them from Danish teachers, I've heard them from locals. But I'm not in that world myself, so it's very hard to assess if there's a real, objective truth somewhere in there. If such a thing can even exist.

Yet I'm here, doing an art project about local women and the issues that plague them. I'm a little bit afraid some of the pieces in my exhibition will seem racist, will seem like a white lady preaching about stuff she doesn't know. I can accept that. In one way, I look at my work as work done with women, that I have done as a female artist. I feel I'm in a same situations as these women and I'm standing against patriarchy. But to locals, to the women here, I can't really know how they experience my presence. Does it seem like I'm criticizing the Greenlandic culture without ever having truly been in it? I know I must look like an outsider but then again we do share the experiences of being a woman in a world ruled by values of men. I do acknowledge, though, that questions of gender and race are closely tied together. Who holds the power here? 

Maybe some people will see my art project as racist or colonialist or ignorant. I can't stop that and I'm fine with it. I mean, I'm a little afraid but I'll take what comes. But only as long as it comes from a place of understanding the point of view I'm showing. I won't tolerate people calling me racist just because they feel I shouldn't create art  about women's experiences or because they want people to stop talking about sexual abuse and assault in Greenland. That's just some grade A bullshit right there.

Read more about the bloks:


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