The Evolution of Modern Culture in Greenland

Sébastien Tixier went to Greenland to study the impact of globalisation in a country that had nurtured his fantasies and fears since childhood. What he witnessed was a country being transformed in the most complex way.

© Sébastien Tixier, from the series, Allanngorpoq

“As a photographer, I am interested in how Western culture and its society scheme are expanding for better or worse”, Sebastien Tixier explains. A touch different from the semi-fictional tales that he was told as a child by his father, of Eskimos living in igloos and piercing holes in floe to catch seals, Greenland seemed like an interesting place to study the impact of globalisation. Over the past decades, the Artic territory has gone through a main evolution, part because of the consequences of climate change, part because of the temptation to adopt certain Western features - both of which ultimately intermingle.

When a hunter goes for a day-trip in the Great North to get seals, he wears bear-fur trousers, but he also covers his head with an American cap whose visor is folded in a perfect curve. “People focus on the traditional outfit and don’t see his fancy jacket. The most surprising thing is that he actually wears these Western clothes in case he catches a seal, knowing that he would then take a selfie and post it on Facebook.”

© Sébastien Tixier, from the series, Allanngorpoq

Tixier went to Greenland thinking he had deconstructed most preconceived ideas about it. Yet, he was consistently surprised by what he experienced there. When he asked a young teenager what he would like to do as an adult, the kid replied with no hesitation that he wanted to be a professional wrestler. The only alternative he would think of was to be a hip-hop singer. And when he was having a cigarette with a hunter, sitting on a sleigh in what seemed like one of the remotest place on Earth, he was expecting everything but to be asked what he thought about the situation in North Korea.

In terms of culture, youngsters are facing a difficult choice. Shall they study or learn the art of hunting? And how much of the decision relies on will rather than on necessity? “Everything is interwoven. Pack ice is getting shorter because of global warming, which forces hunters to go further and further away to find a good spot. Hunting becomes harder, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for locals to be self-sustaining. Supermarkets are thus needed. In the meantime, inhabitants from the Southern part are happy because they can start growing food and get business from agriculture.” This paradigm is not one of clear stance. What is clear is that climate change effects cultural change. “Tradition is shrinking at the pace of ice”, Tixier concludes, quoting anthropologists.

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Sébastien Tixier is an independent fine art photographer currently based in Paris.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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