Art Escapes at Oak – The Nordic Journal


The art offerings of the Nordics are well established: from the capitals’ gleaming national galleries to the scrappier artist-run spaces in their less-polished neighborhoods. But travel away from the established centres and you may stumble upon some of the region’s most visually arresting art sites. In each of the following three art escapes, in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, a unique alchemy fuses the site with the place in which it sits, and together they yield something almost magical.

For volume nine of Oak – The Nordic Journal, I wrote about the Steilneset Memorial (above) in Norway, Artipelag in Sweden, and Cisternerne in Denmark.

Photo: Karen Gardiner


Arctic Superstar at the Village Voice

Poster for Arctic Superstar at Scandinavia House
Poster for Arctic Superstar at Scandinavia House

Last week, for the Village Voice, I interviewed the Sámi rapper, SlinCraze. Nils Rune Utsi, as he is bestter known in his tiny Arctic hometown of Máze, was in NYC for the U.N Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a gathering of 1,200 indigenous people from around the world, where he was invited to play a concert. He also appeared at Scandinavia House, alongside Aili Keskitalo, the President of the Sámi Parliament of Norway, and Simen Braathen, the director of a documentary film about him, “Arctic Superstar.”

The story of Arctic Superstar began in New York, where, in 2013, Braathen produced a photo exhibition of Norwegian rappers and the places they represent. SlinCraze played his first NYC gig at the Mothership in Brooklyn afterward. “SlinCraze’s story stuck out to me,” Braathen told me, “because of his raw ambition, yet impossible starting point. Language is obviously important in rap, yet there he was rapping in a language that is considered endangered by UNESCO. And killing it!”

Utsi’s language is Northern Sámi, understood by only 20,000 people. Not only do Norwegians or Europeans or anyone else not understand Northern Sámi, but many Sámi people don’t understand it either.

As he told me: “There’s no numbers on how many Sámi people there are, because of a history of the Norwegian government trying to wipe out the Sámi language. A lot of kids, from at least two generations before me, learned that speaking Sámi is taboo. So they forgot the language. There’s no real numbers on how many people are actually Sámi, because a lot of people work really hard to hide it.”

I was reminded while speaking to him of an artwork I saw last year in the Stormen cultural centre in Bodø, Arctic Norway. By Edvine Larssen, who lives and works on the Lofoten islands, the piece comprises a found vintage photograph of a Sámi couple. The people in the photograph had scratched out their traditional Sámi footwear.

Edvine Larssen at Stormen. Photo by author.
Edvine Larssen at Stormen. Photo by author.

Why? Because at this time Norway had a policy of forced assimilation, known as Fornorsking, or Norwegianisation. Sámi traditions and clothing were banned, as were the Sámi languages, one of which SlinCraze is helping revitalise through his music.

Read my interview with SlinCraze here. And enjoy his thought-provoking video for Suhtadit (or, “fighting”).


Sami Stories at Scandinavia House


Scandinavia House, on Park Avenue near Grand Central, is one of my favorite under-the-radar places in New York City. It’s almost always quiet, never busy, has a great (but pricey) Nordic café named Smörgås Chef; and shows excellent films and free art exhibitions. Continue reading “Sami Stories at Scandinavia House”

My Travel Memories Taste Like Sugar: Sweden/Denmark/Iceland/Finland

Credit: daniel.julia via Flickr -
Credit: daniel.julia via Flickr -

Food is memory. My memories of places are informed by the taste of the sweet things I ate there.

Pic n’ Mix in Scandinavia

Every time that I arrive at Malmö Central Station I walk straight into the Pressbyra store, grab a paper bag and fill it all the way up to the top with treats from the Karamelkungen candy wall. There’s gummy bears, fizzy glow worms, salty liquorice, bilar (indescribable “cars”) and, my favorites, “sugar cubes,” which, really, might as well be straight sugar cubes.

Pic n’ Mix, as we call it in the U.K. is one of the things I sorely miss about home — they don’t seem to do it here in the States. There has been many a time when a bag full of brightly colored and inventively shaped sweets have replaced actual meals for me. When I first arrived broke in London in 1999 I found a dream of a sweet shop, called Sweet Centres, that was crammed with hundreds of different types and too expensive for me to enjoy. When, about a week later, I got a job at a restaurant opposite the shop that’s where I spent my first tips.

I have enjoyed pic n’ mix in Australia, Chile, Argentina, Latvia, Estonia, France, Germany and the Czech Republic but the Scandinavian countries, I think, do it best, both in terms of variety and ubiquity.