Greenland Arts and Literature


From North America, the Inuit brought with them a rich oral storytelling and poetry tradition that was further developed in Greenland. From the last decades of the 19th century to the present, the Greenlanders have created extensive fiction in Greenlandic, compared to the other Inuit groups. With the colonization of 1721, the Greenlandic also became a written language. In the middle of the 19th century, the population was generally literate. From about 1850, the formerly very poor education of native Greenlandic teachers was organized by the establishment of two seminars in Greenland. During the last decades of the 19th century, the Greenlanders also became a writing people. They themselves wrote down their oral tradition (HJ Rink’s collection) and from 1861 the Greenlandic newspaper Atuagagdliutit was published with Greenlandic editors (Rasmus Berthelsen and Lars Møller).

The written Greenlandic fiction started with the fact that the Greenlanders themselves created hymns (Rasmus Berthelsen, Andreas Hansen) in the hymn tradition of missionaries built on Greenlandic from the beginning of the mission in the latter part of the 19th century. In the Atuagagdliutit it is noted that already in the 19th century, there were ethnic-nationally conscious Greenlanders, and in the early 1900’s, in addition to newspaper articles, they also started to build up a national literature. They did not use the forms of the oral tradition but the European genre forms. The literature was seen as morally and religiously constructive and socially beneficial. It was written spiritual and social songs. The latter were partly songs of praise to the Fatherland, partly debates on how to further develop one’s Greenlandic identity and Greenlandic society during the difficult transition phase from unilateral fishing culture to diverse professional practice. Many songs were strongly self-accusing and criticized their own too small efforts. Among the best writers are Jonathan Petersen, Josva Kleist and Henrik Lund.

The first two Greenlandic novels, by Mathias Storch (1914) and Augo Lynge (1931), each gave their future vision of Greenland as a modern country, which after a long critical phase had a well-educated population and integrated with the international world. They both looked very critical at their contemporary lack of education and education. In the years before and after 1953 (when Greenland was incorporated with Denmark) came several novels, some songs, some poetry collections, plays and short stories by authors such as Pavia Petersen, Hans Lynge, Frederik Nielsen and Otto Rosing. The prose addresses the culture of the pre-colonial society, especially the need for food supplies, diligence, arranged marriages and revenge. But the fiction was also opposed to colonial society. In relation to the previous songbook tradition, secularisation followed – and in some poems a more international attitude (Frederik Nielsen). With the modernization in the 1950’s came unforeseen problems that appeared seriously in the 1960’s. The Greenlanders felt like strangers, felt passivated and experienced an ethnic-national identity crisis (Kristian Olsen Aaju). One began to criticize one for excessive dance and demanded their own decision-making system – “home rule” – especially among Greenlanders who were educated in Denmark. In the 1960’s, the kayak and other material material Inuit culture were found in the lyrics as ethnonational symbols (Moses Olsen). Then followed a protest poem, often also in Danish, with a very sharp criticism of Denmark as a colonial power and of the Danish Greenland policy after 1953 (Aggaluk Lynge and Malik Høegh). A 1971 novel about the proud trapping society of pre-colonization with its high morale became cult novel (Ole Brandt). A tetralogy described the Greenlanders’ immigration from Canada and their history until the introduction of the “Home Rule”, seen from a more Greenlandic point of view (Frederik Nielsen). However, many authors cared more about the individual’s problems in the contemporary world without completely releasing the ethnically-nationally conscious aspects (Hans Anthon Lynge, Mâliâraq Vebæk).

In the 1970’s-1990’s, the lyrics were characterized by protest poetry and partly by some more trivial pop songs. There was also a renewal in the form of more modernist poems, some of which explored the modern Greenlandic hybrid world with roots in both traditional Inuit culture and the Western world, others are love poems.

A new feature is to use allusions to the spiritual Inuit culture in e.g. the love poems (Ole Korneliussen, Ole Kristiansen and Jesse Kleeman). Some short stories by Korneliussen also illustrate the modern existence from the post-colonial aspect. In the novel “Tarrarsuummi tarraq” (2000; “Saltstoden”), Korneliussen describes the feeling of homelessness in today’s Greenlandic society.

In general, the Greenlandic prose faces new challenges in that the young people are looking for works that give more room for their own reflections in a day-to-day life with otherwise predominantly medial influence from the USA and Western Europe.


Greenlandic art was dominated until the 19th century by carved representations of people, animals and spirits. Particular attention was paid by Europeans to the tupilak, an accidental fabulous animal, made by magical men and women to bring misfortune and death to their enemies. These objects have all been lost; what you can see today are imitations, cut in bones or soft stones. See Inuit Art.

Greenlandic drawing art and a graphic tradition were initiated by the inspector of South Greenland Hinrich Johannes Rink, who founded a letterpress in the 1850’s, whose first work was Rasmus Berthelsen’s woodcut illustrated book about the Greenlanders Pooq and Quiperoq’s trip to Copenhagen in 1724. The Rinks invitation Sending stories, stories and drawings to him resulted in the submission of over 500 manuscripts.

The most prominent artist personality was the catcher Aron from Kangeq, whose drawings were published in “Grønlandske Træsnit”, published in Godthåb in 1860. During the 1900’s Hans Lynge was a leading name both as a painter and sculptor and as poet and art educator. The Rosing family counts numerous visual artists, including Jens and Emil Rosing, the latter also active as a museum man. Important for the training of Greenlandic artists in their home country was the founding of Grafisk Værksted i Godthåb 1972, whose first leader was Hans Lynge. Later, the school was expanded under the name of Greenland School of Art. One of the teachers at the art school was Aka Høegh, who in Denmark made herself known as a graphic artist.