The Secret of Icelandic Artistic Flair

By Nita Bajoria


“Pointing towards the pitch dark, starry sky in that chilly Icelandic night, Thora described the curvy column of northern light as a dancing snake. Everything she expressed had a tone of poetry to it.

‘Am an artist, and I do this job as a freelancer to earn some extra money,’ our tour guide Thora told us with a smile as we scouted the countryside for a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.

It’s a fact today that most islanders have some or the other artistic connection. In fact, one out of four people work in creative careers. But the question that haunted me throughout my trip was what makes them so artistic? Is it to do with the isolation and stunning natural environment or there’s something more to it?
Let’s explore.”

Liberal Outlook

“Icelanders are proud of their Viking heritage and have a liberal Nordic outlook similar to other Nordic countries,” Thora said as we discussed over a cup of Kaffe, the national drink of Iceland.

“Our society and culture believe in gender equality,” She added with a smile. “A lot of it comes from our Viking history when males went around as looters and remained away from homes for months. Sturdy women who kept their families fed in the semi-tundra harshness of this north Atlantic island while their husbands forayed, for years at a time, far and wide. But when these women bore children with their slaves, the Vikings accepted it, in the spirit of the more, the merrier. They understood the need of the women.”

“Whatever she said made me realize that equality in the freedom of thoughts and action is a significant way of living for Icelanders. And therefore, every Icelandic male knows how to knit, every female knows how to use tools.
And they created a government that guaranteed religious freedom and created laws that strictly forbids discrimination based on race, gender, disability or other factors, Iceland by many standards enjoys the best of human rights.
One such installation that depicts human desire to fly free can be found at the airport the moment you land on this island. Keflavik Airport, once a military base and three-time winner of the best airports in Europe, is an art museum in itself. You just need to look up at the departure hall to witness two great stained glass murals named “Yearning for Flight” and ‘Icarus’ by an Icelandic artist Leifur Breiðfjörð. And that’s not all.

You step out of the airport to be greeted by a gush of cold wind, you look around pulling your luggage, and your eyes fall on a huge stainless egg with a beak poking out. The shiny egg rests on a nest of rock inside a lit up pond. And as you drive out of the airport, you cannot but miss the arched “Rainbow” sculpture by Ruri, that extends from a base of Icelandic dolerite rock. The colourful installation not only makes you crane your neck for a better look, but it also is a reminder that rainbows are one thing you will come across many times in Iceland.”

Icelandic people
Rich Family Values

“But despite such openness and the institution of marriage is not being a priority, family life and caring for children are central to adulthood. Icelanders are such a well-adjusted, polite and stable group of people that all of my pre-conceived notion about how to raise a family has been challenged. Icelandic couples love children and do not wait for their relationship to get to a certain level. And once born these kids are given proper care, no matter if their parents are still together or divorced. The society is culturally geared, and its overwhelming priority is to bring up happy, healthy children, by however many fathers and mothers. This definitely makes Icelanders less insecure about their future and helps them have a more stable attitude towards life. They are free to adapt and pursue whatever gives them happiness, be it painting or music.

As I stood watching the Atlantic waves playing with the rain along the old harbour through the glass facade of the Harpa Centre, I couldn’t but help admire the astounding sculpture reflecting the cloud-laden sky, the romantic port as well as the vibrant life of the city. Its unique architecture and the square-shaped colourful glass panels created a unique view from different angles. Famous for its state of an art concert hall, Harpa is the home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera and the Reykjavik Big Band and numerous music festivals.

The architectural beauty of Iceland is also evident once you lay your eyes on the iconic Hallgrimskirkja at Reykjavik downtown. The tallest church of the country with its beautiful columned wing looks like a massive pipe organ visible for over twelve miles, the tower of Hallgrímskirkja houses a 50 feet tall organ that has more than 5,000 bellowing pipes. The church holds weekly services when the organ is being played, and every summer the church hosts an international festival of organ music.

Walking down the city braving the cold winds, I witnessed another art form that was once considered a job of vandals and rebels. As if it was impossible to keep the flowing juices of creativity within four walls, amazing graffiti adores the outer walls of residential buildings in Iceland. From Hlemmur all the way to Grandi, one can easily spot many breathtakingly amazing work of graffiti and murals. And if you are tired of walking or need a cover from the chilly wind, there are many art museums, quirky project spaces and galleries to treat your eyes with some great works of art.”

Innovation Education

“As I conversed with some parents, I found that it is common practice to give kids free space for play and exploration, to encourage imagination and the creative process. Schools are free, exams are discouraged, and students engage in hands-on learning. Innovation Education and Practical Use of Knowledge was introduced into the Icelandic National Curriculum for compulsory schools in 1999 and that further strengthened the artistic side of Icelandic kids.

And this might be one of the reasons why one out of ten Icelanders are authors. Their love of books is also evident by a large number of bookstores, book-cafés and libraries present. Eymundsson is a popular bookstore chain there. And in 2011, Reykjavík was even designated a UNESCO City of Literature.

Jolabokaflod or the Christmas Book Flood is an exciting tradition here, where everyone gifts books to each other on Christmas and they spend the holy night reading their favourites. Isn’t that amazing?

But the stories are not just written and read here. They are passes on verbally to each and every foreigner that steps on this lava soil by the Icelanders. Starting from your tour guide, a friendly chap at the bar, shopkeepers everyone seems eager to share an interesting Icelandic story.”

Icelandic Art


“As I roamed about the country, one thing that caught my attention was the simplicity of Icelandic people. Their fashion sense, interiors and architecture have a strange simpleness to them. Just like nature. Their churches despite a design statement from outside are smartly simple from inside. And this plainness gets reflected in their art making them look effortless and easy to make own.

A good example is the Sun Voyager, the gleaming steel sculpture on Reykjavik’s scenic waterfront by Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason. It is a dreamboat and an ode to the sun. Intrinsically, it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.”

Awesome Geographical Beauty

“Though Icelanders deny that the stunning landscape has little to do with their creative side, I am definite that it does inspire them in many ways. A painter willing to draw a lovely painting, a writer looking for an inspiring peaceful location would have to just drive a few minutes out of the town.

I read somewhere that Ólafur Ellíasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist said that the mountains in Iceland get their personality from the way the light falls on them. He rightly noted that the Mountains are pretty much the same everywhere, but the clarity and low light here, the long shadows and angles, they are unique.”

Green Country

“You would think that being a country powered mainly by green energy from hydro and geothermal sources can’t have much to do about art forms flourishing there. But it’s true. Yoko Ono chose Iceland for her artwork “Imagine Peace Tower” mostly because this island is the most peaceful and uses green energy. The circular structure, located on Videy Island off the north coast of Reykjavík, is a powerful ray of light that shoots up towards the sky creating a tower effect. The wishing well shines every year between Lennon’s birthday, October 9, and his death anniversary December 8, and represents people’s wishes for world peace.

Looking for souvenirs, I picked up some lava rock jewellery, Lopapeysa or Icelandic sweater, and some liquorice chocolates. But the real take away from this green island was the motivation to nurture my art, the way these Nordic people are doing. Spiritually enlightened, I once again resolved to come back and waved the snowy peaks a goodbye.”

Written by Published Author Nita Bajoria.

Nita Bajoria AuthorNita considers herself a budding writer, as she started writing seriously just five seasons ago. Nita has published a few short stories and a few travelogues in various local magazines and e-magazines. She recently self-published her debut Novel "The Leap". Nita, born Kolkata in India, loves reading and travelling.
Check out her published books on Amazon.

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