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Inuuteq Storch
From the series Keepers of the Ocean (2019)Photography Inuuteq Storch

A raw portrait of Greenland by a rising Arctic Inuit artist

Storch – who is the first Kaalaleq (Arctic Inuit) artist to have a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale – aims to capture ‘the Greenlandic everyday’

When he was 19, Innuteq Storch was dumpster diving with a friend in his hometown of Simisut, Greenland and found some rolls of film. Then just an amateur photographer, Storch decided to digitise the images, discovering photographs of daily life in his hometown that mirrored his own. “I realised Greenland may not have a strong photography culture, but it does have good photography,” says Storch.

This premise underpins Storch’s practice. The artist combines archival and found photography with his own imagery, illuminating his nation’s identity through a Greenlandic gaze, which has long been overlooked by a colonial, Western one. In the 19th century, Greenland was captured by British and American expeditions on their new-found cameras, whose images of  ‘simple’ indigenous lifestyles would shore up arguments for colonialist expansion. A Danish colony until 1953, even today Greenlandic artists are offered scant representation. “Only two Greenlandic artists are in the big museums in Denmark,” Storch tells me.

Rise of the Sunken Sun, Storch’s entry to the Danish Pavillion at the Venice Biennale, hopes to correct this imbalance. Featuring six series made over the past 14 years, he is the first artist from Greenland to represent Denmark and the first Kaalaleq (Arctic Inuit) artist to have a solo exhibition at the Biennale. Yet despite being labelled a decolonial artist, Storch tells me he “doesn’t think of colonialism” when he works, but instead aims to capture “the Greenlandic everyday and way of being.” The earliest series featured is At Home We Belong, with photographs made between 2010 and 2015 that present the idiosyncrasies of his hometown: a bike hangs from a crane like a practical joke; a man sits in the snow watching TV. Human figures are small and concealed by shadows: this is a place dominated by the landscape – the changing moods of sun, sea and skies. “We live because of nature, it decides what kind of day we are going to have,” says Storch. The exhibition has been curated around a red sculptural disk designed to resemble the Arctic sunset. 

For Storch, photography is a question of lineage. Starting when he was in elementary school, his first camera was a Nikon D60 “with a scratch on the lens,” bought cheap from a classmate, and he went on to “inherit cameras from grandparents, parents and friends.” In Sunsets of Forgotten Memories, he curates photographs from his grandparent’s personal archive. Despite their amateur quality, snapshots in Kodak chromatics, sometimes damaged and oversaturated, Storch emphasises the preciousness. The installation– a two-single-channel video projection – is like a carousel, conjuring the images as fleetingly, as the title suggests, as memory itself.

The exhibition also explores Storch’s engagement with the work of John Møller, the first professional Kalaaleq photographer, who captured Greenlandic life during its colonial zenith. Finding them hidden in a museum archive, Storch found them to be “technically and compositionally perfect.” He has curated the images with his own sense of playfulness: Danish officers posing clownishly for portraits, taxidermied birds and ladies in bonnets. Titled Mirrored, Møller’s section of the show is twinned with Keepers of the Ocean, images of Storch’s hometown in 2019. With teenagers smoking in a yellow Cadillac, kids kissing in hoodies, modern apartment blocks and Superman costumes, Storch shows the society in its postcolonial epoch.

The balance between past, present and future hangs heavily in all of Storch’s work. The series Soon Summer Will Be Over, most clearly shows this tension, depicting life for communities in Qaanaaq, Greenland’s northernmost town where old ways of living are still strongly upheld. Whilst signifiers of a dark colonial history (churches and crucifixes) are clear, the images are idyllic: sunkissed fragments from the short Arctic summer. Yet the part-icy, part-thawing landscape asks the question, how long can this all last? 

 et these images were also a way for Storch to understand his own personal history. “My name comes from Qaanaaq,” says Storch. “So I thought maybe I should go home at some point so I could understand my name.” In several of the images parts of the photographer’s body are visible. In one, he photographs his hand, defiant but insignificant against the icy landscape beyond. “I find the more I learn about myself, the less I know,” he says. “It’s like when we learn about the universe, we discover how little we know.”

Inuuteq Storch’s Rise of the Sunken Sun (Commissioned by the Danish Arts Foundation) is on display at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia from April 20 until November 24, 2024


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