In the age of globalisation, the concepts of nation and nationality become increasingly challenged. With immigration to Iceland on the rise, the country is facing a new fundamental change to its society, just 100 years after the declaration of its sovereignty.
This year’s theme of the Cycle Music and Art Festival is “Inclusive Nation,” which deals with questions such as the heritage of Danish colonialism, national identity, and the role of whiteness in the Nordic countries. On October 25, it will also inaugurate the “Inclusively Exclusive” exhibition at the Gerðarsafn Art Museum, which will include Melanie Ubaldo’s new art piece.
Ambient level of white racism
Melanie is a Filipino-born artist that has lived in Iceland for 13 years, or exactly one half of her life. The fine arts graduate has exhibited her works at Kling & Bang and at the Cycle Festival in Berlin earlier this year, and will also be exhibiting a new art piece at this year’s edition.
“I do these massive paintings,” she says. “They are stitched together pieces of canvas—almost like a quilt; like your grandma would make. Then on top of that I put autobiographical texts, which are statements that people have said about me.”
The statements, such as “What are you doing in Iceland with your face?” or “Is there any Icelander working here?” expose the “ambient level of white racism” that immigrants in Iceland often face in their daily lives.
“There is this double standard,” Melanie explains. “As long as you’re a tourist, you’re welcome here, because you’re bringing in money. But if you work here and live here as an immigrant, you’re actually getting paid to be here. And that’s bad.”
Melanie’s artworks unite two contradictions—the tedious work of stitching all the canvases together by hand, which takes weeks, and the “manspreading” textual statements. The stitching together of canvases was inspired by a Filipino tradition of recycling clothes into rugs, which Melanie’s mum sold to make ends meet when she first moved to Iceland.
Even though Melanie feels included in the culture and speaks Icelandic, she still has to deal with prejudice and racism. “I look at myself as the most historically marginalised group in the world,” she laughs. “I’m an Asian immigrant woman. It doesn’t get better than that.”
While her artworks are cheeky and provocative, they are also very sincere, and intended to start a conversation. “The art I make has been shown in public spaces,” Melanie says. “People just go about their day, being borderline racist. Casual racism doesn’t exist until someone points it out. Here, I point it out.”
Cycle Music and Art Festival will be held October 25-28th in various venues. Attend the pre-party at The Marshall House on October 19th, and find more info at www.cycle.is.