The idea of new land is often associated with the Age of Exploration and a Eurocentric view of the world in which pioneers coloured in “blank areas” on the map with the colours of their nations. Areas of land were explored and divided; new treasures and natural resources were discovered and exploited. European imperialism expanded from ca. 1500 to 1900, with significant consequences. New land was always old land for someone else, and the natural treasures the very foundation of life, which really belonged to the land itself. Originally, long before the colonies, we were after all just human beings that moved from places to new places.
In this world, all explored but scarcely freed of imperialistic conceptions, a vast amount of people travel as refugees. New land may be the salvation, yet a fate many would not have chosen. New land can be filled with opportunity, but is foreign and often hostile. Our ideas of old and new are somewhat dubious; “we” have been here for generations (but we tend to end this generational journey before we get to indigenous peoples), whereas “the others” should go back to where they came from. It is easy to forget the flight and dependency on the generosity of others experienced by one’s own people, only a few decades ago.
The national divisions that constitute the framework for a “we” is, in many cases, contrived. In the wake of World War I the world was divided by the Western victors, by means of rulers on board room tables. Unnatural states, their peoples’ connections to one another spanning both across and within national borders, have been the cause of new wars and conflicts ever since. These more or less random national borders are used time and again as a legit reason to keep people out, to not accept, as it is “the others” who are fleeing. This is a harsh, brutal view of humanity, which also holds no place in history. From a humanist point of view, the national state as a phenomenon is dated. This way of categorising the world must be replaced by a new, international “we”.
Hannah Ryggen arrived at Ørlandet in 1924. There she would come to be well acquainted with nature and how to make use of it, and create art without borders. Through radio broadcasts and newspapers she travelled to Ethiopia (the tapestry Etiopia/Ethiopia, 1935), Spain (Gru/Horror, 1936), Nazi Germany (among others Drømmedød/Death of Dreams, 1936) and Vietnam (Grå figur/Grey figure, 1960-61) – and wove her engagement and sympathy into her works when fellow human beings suffered injustice. She created works for the world and was a true humanist, not without personal risk. Her works demanded a strong stance.
The Hannah Ryggen Triennial aims to exhibit contemporary art that does just that. Works that, like Hannah Ryggen’s, both illustrate and force forth viewpoints on the world and its peoples. Today, 50 years after Hannah Ryggen wove her last works, the world is not a more peaceful place. The artists invited to take part in the triennial use their artistic practice to shed light on power structures and different forms of oppression, as well as suggest alternative, optimistic ways of interacting and co-existing.
The future is new land. We move together into the blank space, full of potential.