In fact, I think we should all be more like Betzy – we should all be BADASSES that contribute where we can and when we can to a more equal, democratic and sustainable society and future
Thank you for inviting me to give a short talk on this celebration of the International Women’s Day!
While the 8 March marks the achievement of women, it is also an opportunity to think about why we have this day in the first place.
Most of us here are so fortunate as to be residents in Norway – a democratic country that supports the rights and equality of all people regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity and class.
I think many of us too, like to think of Tromsø as a place that is – perhaps – more open and accepting than other places in Norway – as well as a place where people are less formal.
So, I don’t know about you, but the whole uproar about the Roald Amundsen statue last year caught me by surprise. Do you know what I’m talking about?
The furore was all over the local newspapers last summer – especially in iTromsø – about the vandalism and desecration of Roald Amundsen caused by the temporary alteration of his statue outside the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum.
In case you missed this, I’ll tell you about it:
So…last summer Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum opened a new exhibition called LIKE BETZY. The exhibition showed paintings by the Norwegian painter Betzy Akersloot-Berg.
Never heard of her? Yeah, she was one of those artists who’s been actively written out of Norwegian art history because she’s a woman. So, no wonder you didn’t know about her. But I’ll tell you something about her that I learned when I went to her exhibition at the Museum:
Betzy was a BADASS landscape painter, as curator Charis Gullickson will tell you all about. Betzy painted marine scenes from up here – and painted on the shoulder bones of whales – and she built a wooden box to protect her skirts and sketches when she was painting on the shore by the sea.
So, for the opening of the exhibition, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum made a replica of Betzy’s box and lent it to the polar explorer Roald Amundsen who’s standing in the park right in front of them.
And then they temporarily altered the title of his statue to “Han Roald som Betzy” or “Roald as Betzy”.
It seems obvious that they did this to get more visitors right?!
But, hey, did you know, that there are no statues of famous women in Tromsø?
So, not only did the exhibition and Roald’s borrowed box point to the fact that female artists are written out of art history, it also made us aware that – in this country of democracy and equality – women are not represented among the statues of canonised Greats – in Tromsø or in most other cities in Norway, in fact.
HOWEVER: while we might think Roald’s box was a clever and humorous way to draw attention to a serious issue, not everyone agreed.
In fact, the statements of Gunnar Pedersen, a local politician from the Conservative Party HØYRE, initiated a “hate” campaign against the Museum. He also questioned the city’s Mayor about who had allowed this vandalization of the statue and desecration of Roald Amundsen and requested that Betzy’s box would be removed immediately.
Why do you think he – and other men and women, perhaps of a certain age and political leaning – was so upset?
I’ll tell you what I think:
I think the alteration of the Amundsen statue to Roald-as-Betzy became a challenge to and offence of these critics’ national and gendered identities. I think their experienced identity is somehow still linked to heroic stories about the polar explorer Roald Amundsen, whose conquering of the extreme, “empty” landscapes by ski and sail made him the apex of male Norwegian-ness.
So…the Museum’s mixing a female painter into this story of unquestioned heroic, heterosexual masculinity was clearly BAD….
Contrary to this, i would argue that, in the current climate with misogynist bullies as political leaders in several countries in the world, it is even more important with voices and actions that call out inequalities and challenge the status quo.
In fact, I think we should all be more like Betzy – we should all be BADASSES that contribute where we can and when we can to a more equal, democratic and sustainable society and future.
Stays true to themselves, always
Does not give up
Will always push themselves for the better, no matter how hard it gets
Does not talk about being a badass
Happy Women’s Day!
Ingeborg Høvik er førsteamanuensis i kunsthistorie ved UiT
Norges arktiske universitet.
Artikkelen er basert på Ingeborgs tale på markeringen av
KVINNEDAGEN ved UIT.
TAKK til Ingeborg for at hennes viktige tanker rundt lokale erfaringer kan deles i min blogg på Kvinnedagen.
Publikum inkluderte internasjonale studenter, så talen er derfor på engelsk. Talen ble holdt på Norges arktiske universitet
Fredag 6. mars 2020.
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Foto Betzy Akersloot-Berg (1850-1922): Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum
Foto Ingeborg Høvik: Privat