Shortly after lunch on Friday 17th February, I headed over to the rather hipster Hackney-esque Papirøen, or ‘Paper Island’, for a coffee and chat with Pernille, a fellow lover of East Africa.
As is often top of the agenda these days in Europe, we discussed migration and the question being raised by one political party about what constitutes Danish values. It is interesting as it seemed to mirror similar discourse about British values that had arisen pre- and post-Brexit in the UK.
When the conversation moved on to discuss the diversity of my students in the UK, Pernille recalled a small photography exhibition that had just opened at Støberiet in Nørrebro, just down the road from what is affectionately called ‘Little Somalia’ and on my way to my friends’ apartment.
The title of the exhibition, Min Identitet På Tværs, roughly translates as ‘My Identity Across’ and implies a potential tension, or distance, between divergent aspects of young Danish-Somalis’ cultures.
According to the website, the curators, Manna Tarah and Hibaq M. Ahmed, put the exhibition together to ask questions of: whether a cultural heritage can be maintained in the ever-changing cultural community; and can the new and old cultures really coexist?
Not realising that by being half-term in Denmark the exhibition would be closed, I was fortunate that one of the librarians in the bibliotek downstairs unlocked the gallery and switched the lights on, leaving me to look about at my leisure.
The pictures on display recontextualise and reimagine vintage Somali pictures from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and place them into a modern, predominantly urban, Danish context. The idea behind this was “to form a visual bridge between Somalis across generations and continents, across borders and time.”
A particular favourite denoted a young Danish-Somali woman in a reimagining of a 1975 photo of the model Iman Abdulmajid. It was taken by Manna Tarah in 2017 Copenhagen and, despite the obvious difference in appearances between the two subjects, it helped, if not to answer the question about how a cultural heritage is maintained in a different context, but at least to indicate that being at once Danish and Somali shouldn’t be seen as diminishing the cultural heritage of either nation.
Although small, the notion of diverse cultures being explored within the self is an interesting facet of migrant often overlooked by many quarters and it would be nice to see more similar projects in West London too.
Min Identitet På Tværs is at Støberiet until 15th March 2017. More information can be found at: https://kulturn.kk.dk/event/fernisering-min-identitet-paa-tvaers.