A lit sign featuring the message “Make The North Great Again” has triggered protests from inhabitants of Longyearbyen in the Svalbard archipelago.
The artwork is part of the project Nordting (“Northern Thing”) started by artist Amund Sjølie Sveen in order to bolster the cultural impact of the High North. It was set up in late November and will go on during the time of darkness, that is, until March.
On Facebook, the reactions have been damning, with many disliking the not-so-subtle nod to Donald Trump's slogan, calling it “horrible”. “Light pollution. Glad I'm moving to the mainland,” one local wrote.
Journalist and critic Anki Gerhardsen argued that the art project Nordting is constantly moving in the borderland between the patriotic and the authoritarian.
“Sveen plays with double associations,” Gerhardsen told national broadcaster NRK. “What makes Nordting interesting is that it is ambiguous and demanding. Right behind the good follows the totalitarian and the authoritarian,” she said.
However, artist Amund Sjølie Sveen is pleased with the public reaction and the debate he has stirred.
Many of the discussions really go to the heart of what the project is, i.e. to discuss who decides over the north and what is north, Sveen explained to national broadcaster NRK.
“It is about examining power relations in the north, and this sign is part of it. It is the north reclaiming its power,” Sveen said.
He explains that the background for the artwork is that Donald Trump tried to buy a large part of the Arctic, namely Greenland. Sveen also emphasised that the goal is to emphasise the fact that the northern areas are for sale, that they can be “conquered and colonised”.
Sveen called the artwork “beautiful” but said he respected those who thought otherwise.
“The idea is to turn it upside down and stress that now it is not a superpower or a paranoid ex-president who will be big again, it is the North that takes power back,” Sveen explained.
The project Nordting has been going on since 2014 and calls to public meetings where socio-political issues related to Northern Norway and the High North are discussed. Nordting describes itself as “the Northern Cause, a separatist movement, a celebration of the Arctic colony.”
The slogan “Make the North great again” is also available on face masks that, according to Nordting, “protect against Covid-19, fake news and the boredom of self-isolation”.
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean situated north of mainland Europe, about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. While part of the Kingdom of Norway since 1925, Svalbard is not part of geographical Norway, but forms an unincorporated area administered by a governor appointed by the Norwegian government, and constitutes a special jurisdiction outside of the Schengen Area, the Nordic Passport Union and the European Economic Area. Longyearbyen is Svalbard's main settlement, with about 2,500 inhabitants.