Greenlandic Art Through Time

From small wooden carvings of male and female figures found in old settlement ruins to ink drawings, theatre and motion pictures, Greenlanders have a long history of documenting culture through art.


Historically speaking, the art of Greenland has gone from the sealer/whaler cultures’ traditions of decorating on skin, garments and tools to the modern contemporary art that we know today.

Not surprisingly, this development follows the development of society. From not having a real concept of art in the western sense, the perception of art in Greenland was quickly transformed following the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century.

Visual artists emerged and started producing works of art that were seen as more than simply works of decoration.

"Not surprisingly, the development of art follows the development of society."

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The first things we began to see were small watercolors, drawings and figurines/sculptures made by Greenlanders who were bound to the dry land due to different causes.

During this period it was artists such as Aron from Kangeq (1822-1869) and the woodcutter Johannes Kreutzmann (1862-1940) who were significant.

However, these works of art are not only interesting to look at. Aron from Kangeq’s works are small, detailed depictions, typically done with pencil or watercolour, of places in and events from contemporary Greenland, and they also act as important historical sources that help us to understand the past.

With the success of the artist Hans Lynge (1906-1988), who is closely connected to European Impressionism, the art of Greenland finally established itself as an independent language.

A language that the younger Jens Rosing (1925-2008) refined further in his many portrayals of wildlife and nature. The subsequent generations of artists often mention these two pioneers when expressing their kinship with other artists.


In the notably political era of the seventies, which culminated with the introduction of the Home Rule Government in 1979, the role of art changed. Art began to be used to display a specific Greenlandic attitude, or face, to the outside world.

Rights and claims to land in the Arctic region are determined by a natural sense of belonging to the earth, the sea and the sky. Not surprisingly, much of the art coming out of Greenland during this period was about the relationship between people and nature.

Artists such as Aka Høegh (1947-) and Anne-Birthe Hove (1954-2012) are and were representatives of this movement.

The works of Anne-Birthe Hove contain clear political elements, while Aka Høegh mainly works with nature and myths in a creative way.

The performance artist Jessie Kleemann (1959-) also has a unique style. She focuses on the qivittok as a phenomenon and state of mind, and examines the ongoing process of development in Greenlandic society as a theme.


In today’s self-governing Greenland, new exponents are in play: artists such as Julie Edel Hardenberg (1971-), Miki Jakobsen (1965-), Inuk Silis Høegh (1972-), Bolatta Silis-Høegh (1981-), Angu Motzfeldt (1976-), Gukki Willsen Møller (1965-), Nanna Ánike Nikolajsen (1981-) and Paninnguaq Lind Jensen (1990-), whose art you get a glimpse of in the video below.

They represent a group of young artists who disassociate themselves from what is perceived as traditional Greenlandic art.

To a greater extent, they associate themselves with the trends of the international art scene.

This, however, does not mean that they lose their connection to Greenland or to their cultural background.

Generally speaking, they have something on their mind and they want to demonstrate what art in Greenland is about. This new generation of artists plays with the country’s existing prejudices about history, culture and identity.

They confront and defy them, in order to show the world the diversity of Greenland!

See Art Exhibitions in Greenland

Study form and brush strokes at Nuuk Art Museum and Ilulissat Art Museum. Browse other recovered historical art pieces at the Greenland National Museum and Archive or the local museum in every town. Katuaq, Greenland’s cultural center in Nuuk, also displays several permanent and temporary exhibitions.

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