How an artist is ensuring the women of Húsavík won’t be forgotten
Húsavík has made its mark on the tourist map, thanks to being the whale-watching capital of Iceland. While colourful houses and museums add to the town’s charm, Danish artist Julie Laenkholm is hoping to bring something extra this summer – poetry.
While artist in residence at LungA School last fall, Julie reconnected with her family roots in Húsavík and found herself drawn to the history and culture surrounding this unique town in the north of Iceland. She will be holding an exhibition this August, where she will use Húsavík itself to create poetry and beauty—showing how art can create the circumstances for something previously unknown to appear.
Why is the town of Húsavík so special for you?
Julie L: My father’s side of the family comes from Húsavík so it was always a place that we heard stories about. When we visited for the first time in 2004, our parents brought us to the Húsavík Museum and in the basement there was a family tree. And on this family tree were both of my parents’ names. It was a really exceptional experience for me, and I think it was the first time I felt what it means to stem from somewhere.
My great-grandparents had six children and moved to Denmark in 1912, during Iceland’s independence movement. When my great-grandparents arrived in Denmark they built a house and named it “Húsavík.”
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming exhibition?
I guess it’s very much the “little drama in the bigger drama” I am interested in. It’s going to be about what it means to stem from somewhere from a postcolonial perspective.
I have had the privilege to meet with Kristín Loftsdottir, who is a professor in postcolonial studies. Her work revolves around gender and feminism. I studied her articles on postcolonialism and what I found so interesting was how both the stories from my family and the historical archives in the Húsavík Museum are told from a gendered point of view, biased towards the experience and achievements of males.
With the support of the museum I wanted to use the exhibition as an opportunity to write in the story of the women in my family and the women of the town, which so far have received limited exposure.
Can you tell us about the weekly performance nights you are hosting in the lead-up to your exhibition opening?
There is not a huge attendance for cultural stuff in Húsavík so I’ve found it easier to invite groups that I discovered existed through my historical research.The first performance night was with the Kvenfelag, which is the women’s association. Snorri the archivist, who has been a great help for me, had helped me translate their two first notebooks and it was so inspiring to hear what these women had done for the town. They made schools, and donated their milk to women who could not breastfeed, they built an orphanage and tried to make it a law not to drink and swear and smoke.
I invited them to come over and eight people came, which is a success here! We had the most beautiful night. They taught us how to fold the traditional flower that they make every year and we folded it out of a chain of letters from my grandmother and her sister. The letters about the everyday life of women weren’t really deemed important enough to be archival material I guess, so I wanted to use this as an opportunity to write them into the archive. I have had the local choir, the kids of the town and the theatre group involved in other nights.
What is next for you after the exhibition?
I’ll keep coming back here. It’s like once you have been here it becomes a part of you and you have the urge to go back. Iceland is like a wild, living woman.
Julie’s solo exhibition opens at the Husavik Museum on August 13.