Black Imaginaries, Scandinavian Diasporas

activismBCRWrace and ethnicity In recent years, artists and activists in Denmark, Sweden, and St. Croix have been at the forefront of movements to acknowledge and reckon with Scandinavia’s colonial history and the relation of this history to racial imaginaries and modes of national belonging in Europe and the Caribbean.

Jeannette Ehlers. Photo: Casper Holmenlund Christensen.On March 5 –7, several campus conversations will take place with three artists and activists: Copenhagen-based video, photography, and performance artist Jeannette Ehlers (Denmark/Trinidad); actor, director, and visual artist Ellen Nyman (Sweden); and Virgin Island-based multimedia artist La Vaughn Belle (St. Croix), who is also a Social Justice Institute fellow in the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) through 2020. They will discuss how their art practices across different media are designed to provoke conversation about colonial legacies and contemporary racial politics on the ground in Sweden, Denmark, and St. Croix.

In Sweden over the past decade, there has been what some scholars are calling an “AfroSwedish Movement” or “AfroSwedish Renaissance” in which Swedes of African descent are demanding that Sweden abandon its European mythology of exceptionality when it comes to the slave trade and imperialism and instead acknowledge its role in the slave trade and its aftermath. (Swedes built the Cape Coast slave castle in Ghana, owned St. Barthélemy [St. Barts] in the Caribbean for nearly 100 years, and participated in the savage exploitation of the Belgian Congo).  

Ellen NymanDenmark in 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of Danish rule in the Danish West Indies, which then became known as the US Virgin Islands. The occasion was marked in both Denmark and across the US Virgin Islands through commemorations and celebrations — and accompanied by critique.

La Vaughn Belle. Photo: David Berg.Meanwhile, Iceland is currently in the midst of re-evaluating their engagement with its “first black citizen,” Hans Jonathan, an enslaved man who escaped from his slave owners in St. Croix and fled to Iceland in the early 1800s.

Black Imaginaries, Scandinavian Diasporas is organized by Monica L. Miller, associate professor, departments of English and Africana Studies, and Tami Navarro, associate director of the BCRW, with generous support from the Weiss Fellowship for Visiting International Fellows, co-sponsored by the BCRW. In this interview, Miller and Navarro discuss this project.

What inspired you to invite these artists and activists to Barnard, and what are you hoping that members of the Barnard community will learn from them?

Monica L. Miller, associate professor, departments of English and Africana StudiesWe want to broaden conceptions of the black diaspora and also highlight the work of artists who are working transnationally for racial and social justice. Known to each other and active on many fronts, they are all women artists at the forefront of a global  conversation about multiculturalism, belonging, and social/racial justice in both the Caribbean and Scandinavia.

Ellen Nyman’s work focuses on performativity, blackness,  and Sweden’s national image within performing and visual art. La Vaughn Belle and Jeannette Ehlers have begun and reignited important conversations about blackness, Danish identity, and historical amnesia around

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