Tell us about this new iteration of Qaumma?
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory: Last year, Vinnie and I co-wrote, acted in and did the set design for the show. Now that we have more time, I am supporting the production from the director’s perspective. Charlotte Qamanik, an internationally renowned actor originally from Iglulik, is taking over my role.
In Qaumma, the projections will chase or lead the actors and complement what they are bringing to life. There will be projections on the iceberg, which is made of a reflective material that can be packed in small containers to bring the show North. We are passionate about our work being seen at home, for children to see artistic work about home at home.
Vinnie Karetak: The FTA has been a great support. Last year, we had a beautiful stage manager, an amazing lighting designer, a composer, an Aqqalu Berthelsen, Inuk from Groenland living in Finland, who produced music that really captured what we wanted to convey. We now have a scenic designer who will make the iceberg at the center of the stage more prominent.
The show, like other works of yours, celebrates women as keepers of knowledge, secrets and as holders of incredible strength.
L.W.B.: What we have undergone as Inuit in the face of colonization, climate change, and industrialization in the Arctic is an immensely powerful patriarchal overthrow of our sovereignty. And, in order to reclaim space as Inuit living in our homeland, we must simply be feminist, not through Western or White feminism but through our own understanding of how to return power to women, to femininity, to the non-binary, to queer ways of living in the world. In my work, I emphasize feminism and women’s experiences both as an Inuk woman and as somebody who understands that our path to upholding sovereignty on our land again is through feminism.
You engage directly with the audience in Qaumma, speaking to them, calling them to action.
L.W.B.: That proximity and the challenge to audience members to participate is actually based in uaajeerneq, greenlandic mask dancing, which is the cornerstone of my artistic practice. It defines how I interact in the world, not just artistically but also how I take courage, the approach and the interests I have. Uaajeerneq endeavors to expand your perspective in life both as a performer and as an audience member by pushing the boundaries of comfort to see what you are capable of doing, whether it is something reactionary, something complimentary, or something adversarial.
As an individual, you have to understand that your path in life is multifold but that you’re the one making decisions about what is happening to you. This comes from Inuit worldview. In Qaumma we address the audience because we want them to understand what it feels like to be colonized. At the beginning of the performance, we make eye contact with as many audience members as possible to let them know the space is being animated by them and us. That we are all here together.
V.K.: Mask dancing brings elements of discomfort, yes, but we are also talking about uncomfortable things. We are a people of direct storytelling and doing that feels more natural than painting a picture and hoping somebody will get something out of it. I have a personal story to tell. We address the history of colonization and Christianity, not in an angry or hurtful way, but as a matter of factly. We ask “why do we conform, why are we confined by these artificial, imposed things when it doesn’t have to be like that?” We bring up and build these big thought-provoking ideas. You don’t have to answer right now, just hang on to the question.
Qaumma features this rising moment, this coming together that is not a resolution. Can you speak about this moment?
L.W.B.: We don’t resolve anything or absolve anybody of responsibility but we allow people to understand that we are doing this very difficult reclamation of space and culture and language and story, and it is such an exalting feeling when it comes back to us that it raises us all up. They should know that feeling of being uplifted.
V.K.: Qaumma means light and I have always imagined that the light that we carry on as our people has been shielded from attacks from all over the place. Now we’re pushing to say “here is your flame back. Use it, play with it, grow with it, show it off or keep it to yourself but it’s yours!”