Greenland, a large island in the Arctic occupying a landmass larger than Mexico, is home to a mainly Inuit population of 56,000. Although scarcely inhabited, Greenland has fostered two incredibly unique ceramic talents, Gukki Nuka Willsen Moller and Kristine Spore Kreutzmann.
Very different in both style and technique, the two artists share an urge to express their Inuit heritage through the ceramics they create.
Gukki Nuka, 53, first discovered his ceramic talent when he was studying art at school in Denmark. “I needed to choose one more class—and the choice stood between needlework and ceramics. To me that was like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea,” he recalls. “But I fell completely in love with ceramics right away. I could stay up all night just throwing and throwing.”
Being the son of a Danish mother and a Greenlandic father, and having grown up in both countries, Nuka tried to express the duality of his cultural identity in his ceramics. As an art student at University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, he developed what was later to be known as his twin bowls, two separate bowls inside each other; their duality symbolizing Nuka’s own. The bowls can move individually, but cannot be separated.
The shape of the bowl is inspired from a type of Greenlandic boat, the umiaq. “Denmark and Greenland both have strong traditions for sailing. When I was a kid, my dad took me out sailing on the fjord by Uummannaq, where we lived. Those were some of the happiest moments in my life,” he recalls. The shape of the edges of the bowls change from piece to piece like the sea; some with large waves, others with only a hint of a sway.
Even though the two bowls are only a few millimeters apart, Nuka bisque fires the first bowl before he handbuilds the second bowl inside of it. His professors at University of Regina told him it wasn’t possible, but as he says, “They also say that the bumblebee can’t fly.” Although very popular, he hasn’t created many twin bowls throughout his career; only about 35. “I channel so much energy into every piece that I run out of breath. Even though I could probably make a good living from reproductions, I’ve always had a hard time with assembly-line work.”
His work while studying in Canada earned him the prestigious Governor General’s Award of Excellence.
Home of the Soul
Gukki Nuka’s largest piece of ceramic work is Arctic Mirage, installed at the gate to the Greenlandic House in Copenhagen, which is a 21×51/2-foot (6.4×1.7 m) piece consisting of 18 large stoneware tiles. The surface of the tiles alludes to a birds-eye view of Greenland with ragged mountains, snow, and straight lines representing dog-sled tracks. “I pugged about 1 ton of clay for that piece. I’ll never create such large tiles ever again,” laughs Nuka. “But when I see the piece today, I become so happy. The color of it changes with the light of the day—just like the ice and snow in Greenland. It’s like a little piece of Greenland in Copenhagen.”
Together with photographer Jukke Rosing, Nuka finished decorating four new courthouses in Greenland’s four major cities last year. The artworks include 48 large soul stones, as he named them. Each stone represents a person Nuka used to know—their names are secretly engraved inside them. With a high suicide rate and many lives lost at sea, Greenland, beautiful as it is, also is the home of many tragedies. “The stones represent the beauty of the soul. Every tortured soul must have a place to rest—a place where no one can cause it any harm,” Nuka explains, hence drawing on the traditional Inuit belief that the soul lives on after a person dies. One of the soul stones, today on display in the courthouse in the town of Ilulissat, has his own name written on the inside. “That’s where I will go when I die. It is my sanctuary.”
5, 6 Gukki Nuka’s Arctic Mirage (overall and detail), cast stoneware, 2010. 5, 6 Photos: Greenlandic House in Copenhagen.
Greenland Glacier Clay
Like Gukki Nuka, Kristine Spore Kreutzmann, 29, incorporates Greenland into her ceramics, though not in the shape but rather in her choice of material. She likes to go out into the Arctic wilderness and dig up her own clay. Then, she creates little white pots with Greenlandic clay on the lid. The clay, or glacier flour as Kreutzmann calls it, comes from Greenland’s bedrock, which has been crushed under the weight of the ice cap. “The Greenlandic clay cannot take the same high temperatures as the other clay. After the firing, I grind it down so you can see the bubbles that appear during the firing process,” she explains. “I love to use materials from nature. With ceramics you’re never completely in control, during the firing a lot can happen, and accidents can be a positive contribution.”
Kreutzmann also combines her ceramic works with Greenlandic materials such as sand, rocks, sealskin, fur, bone, seaweed, and thread made from tendons. “It’s important to me not to use Greenlandic motifs. I find it is overdone, almost as if art is only Greenlandic if it looks Greenlandic. Instead I choose to work with materials from Greenland,” she says.
Ceramics has been Kristine Spore Kreutzmann’s passion since high school. The famous Danish ceramic artist Lars Henrik Kähler came to her school to teach art, and he was the one who discovered her talent. He encouraged Kreutzmann to study ceramics at his studio in Denmark and afterward seek admission at the Danish Academy for Crafts Glass and Ceramics, which she did. Having finished her education in 2014, Kreutzmann moved back to Nuuk, Greenland, where she’s lived most of her life.
In her work, she also draws inspiration from her travels to places as far reaching as Burkina Faso, Mexico, Iceland, and Japan where she completed an internship with a Japanese ceramic artist. “I’ve collected a lot of things that inspire me, and I’ve brought home sand and plants from the different countries I’ve visited. I especially like the colors of the sand in Africa and the patterns on the textiles,” she says. Kreutzmann expects that the places she has visited will unconsciously find their way into her work.
The time spent in Japan has pushed Kreutzmann toward a preference for porcelain. “I like the purity and the consistency,” she explains. Beings is the name of one of her pieces; a white round ball with a tail of fur from the white Arctic hare. “Most of my work appears in the making. I wanted to create some balls, and I got the idea of adding a tail to make them seem alive.” The work references traditional Japanese pottery styles with a flair of Greenland represented in the choice of Arctic fur, lending a native mythical touch to the piece.
Both artists hope that Greenlandic ceramics will gain international recognition. “I’ve been met with great interest in the combination of my Greenlandic heritage and the interpretation of Inuit culture in ceramics, says Gukki Nuka. “I think the fervor displayed in our ceramics will also appeal to the world outside of Greenland.”
Gukki Nuka grew up in Uummannaq in northern Greenland, and now lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he is the owner of Gukki Arts and Ceramics. His ceramics have been sold worldwide, as far reaching as Canada, Australia, and Germany.
Kristine Spore Kreutzmann lives in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, where she works part time at a florist and part time as a ceramic artist. She hopes to be able to live fully off her ceramics income in the future. Recently she has joined the multicultural art project Hors Pistes (www.horspistesproject.com). To learn more, visit her website www.kristinesporekreutzmann.com.
the author Martine Lind Krebs is a Danish cultural journalist and writer specializing in Greenland, where she has lived for nine years. She is the editor of the first Greenlandic women’s magazine, Arnanut, and works part time as a communications officer at the Greenlandic House in Copenhagen.