The historic connections between Reykjavík and Winnipeg run deep, but these days the cultural connections between the two cities may run even deeper. The núna (now) festival, which is in its tenth year, brings Icelandic artists to Canada each summer, affirming deep international bonds through art and music.
Winnipeg is the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba, thousands of people are descended from Icelanders who left their homeland in the late 19th century. In Gimli, a town just an hour north of Winnipeg, Icelandic flags flap proudly on the shores of a lake that stands in for the Atlantic, and the annual Íslendingadagurinn festival celebrates the region’s unique history of Icelandic settlement.
Finding Common Ground
Núna (now) curator Karina Hanney Marrero says the goal of the festival is to consider that historic connection between Iceland and Manitoba, but with a “contemporary twist.” Karina, who recently moved to Winnipeg from Reykjavík, says she sees many similarities between the two cities. “Winnipeg is so vibrant! And you would never know that, but it is so vibrant,” she says. “And maybe being that surprised about it is also sort of parallel to Iceland. Like, how does this small population produce so much stuff?”
This year, núna (now) is bringing rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur and visual artists Rúri and Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir to Winnipeg for the festival. One of the first things Karina noticed about Winnipeg was its emerging hip-hop scene. “So when I started thinking about projects for this year, that was the first thing that came to mind,” she says. “I was like, ‘Yep! I’m bringing the Daughters of Reykjavík over.’”
“I know it’s really tacky and cheesy to say so, but there is a creative kind of energy that the winter brings,” Karina explains when asked why Reykjavík and Winnipeg—two cities known for their volatile weather—have such thriving art communities. “The winter sucks, but it produces art, it produces projects and films and music. Simply because you’re stuck inside.”
Núna (now)’s main exhibition for this year, which is being held at a number of Winnipeg galleries, opened on June 10. Rúri and Hekla are representing Iceland in the exhibition, and their work is being displayed alongside that of prominent Canadian artists, such as Kent Monkman and Rebecca Belmore. The exhibition runs until July 23.
The initial goal of núna (now) was for Canadian artists to also travel and share their art in Reykjavík, but that has only happened twice in the festival’s ten-year history. “It’s really hard to plan anything in Reykjavík if you’re not there,” Karina says. “But the ideal dream would be to have the festival every other year in each place.”
Until then, núna (now) is making sure that the cultural ties between Canada and Iceland remain relevant. “We try to think about artists who are on the rise in Iceland, and younger artists,” Karina says. “Giving them exposure and bringing them over and having them perform and exhibit in a totally different continent is such a good opportunity for them. And it is such a pleasure to have them over.”
The 2016 núna (now) festival began in Winnipeg, Canada earlier this month, but the festival’s main exhibition runs until July 23. For more information, visit the festival’s website.