A lot has happened since the first Faroese painters, not so much longer than a century ago, painted the first landscape paintings, to show the beauty of their country, and demonstrate their love for the homeland. Countless new themes and motives have entered into Faroese art since then, international styles have had their influence, and today an impressive number of artists work with pictorial art, lively debates about art take place in all medias and on every street corner, new galleries and art venues pop up every year, and art plays an important role in everyday life.
Some things are still the same, though, and the landscape is still the dominant motive in Faroese art, just as the interplay between nature and mankind is still the most prevalent theme.
Faroese painters have through generations sought images that can portray the states of mind, the moods and the feelings that nature awakens in them, and they have sought forms in nature that can be used to explore and express their inward struggles. From the depth of the sea to the height of the sky, nature is being artistically investigated in every possible way. With psychological interpretations or ironic comments, poetic expressions or conceptual statements, or simply as an opportunity to carry out formal experiments. Nature is all around.
Faroese art is completely new and the exactly same, and maybe it is just this that makes it so fascinating and so alluring to foreigners. This ability to play both with the traditional and the contemporary, the local and the international, the unique and the general. Because in this constant alternation between originality and renewal and in the constant movement between the vernacular and the global endless nuances, contrasts, tensions and aesthetic possibilities are created, and together they form a rich, wonderful, inspiring pictorial art.
The Faroese food culture goes back for more than thousand years since the first norwegian vikings settled on the islands. Then only inhabited by birds in the air, small vegetation in the valleys and fish and whales in the fjords.
With them, the vikings brought sheep, cattle and by time other household animals and culture plants such as grain.
Due to climate limitations of agriculture and technological limitations of fishing, the art of survival of the first Faroese people was challenging in efforts getting enough and nutrional food.
Today, traditional Faroese food is to a large extent, an authentic expression of the necessity of a past to utilise every part of every fish caught, every animal slaughtered and every bird netted.
Whether people went out fishing or took to the bird cliffs with fowler’s nets, they found ways to put every part of their catch to good use and to store as much as possible for hard times.
For centuries they have managed to exploit the hidden treasures swimming in the seas, crawling along the seabed, sitting on cliff ledges and grazing on cliff terraces. Here fish, shellfish, pilot whales, seaweed, birds and sheep have lived a free and clean life resulting in highest quality for man to utilise.
Ræst is both the Faroese way of drying fish and meat and the unique flavour produced by this process. Ræst is the first step in drying food. At this stage dried food attains its distinct taste. But achieving the flavour is not a given.
The meat is hung in the drying houses as September turns into October. The rest is up to nature’s whims. If it is too warm, the meat turns bad; if it is too cold, it does not turn ræst; if it is too windy, it dries too quickly and becomes tasteless.
Today ræst is the Faroese contribution to the palate of the international culinary scene. This unmistakable flavour is the cornerstone of the Faroese kitchen, the combination of natural phenomena peculiar to the Faroes and the deft skill of many generations. Ræst is identical with the age-old art of survival, but also, for the young chefs in The Faroes , the very embodiment of a contemporary construction, umami, the fifth and unknown basic taste. Faroe dry-aging, the process of making meat or fish ræst, is a combination of fermentation and aging.
Faroese culinary tradition is ancient, rooted and unique, but there has hardly been any innovation. The Faroese dishes eaten today are so to say identical with what has been eaten on the islands for centuries. What is found on Faroese tables today reflects a common Nordic kitchen in addition to the unique and unaltered Faroese dishes. But these dishes are becoming more rare as the Faroes are globalised.
Deeply rooted in their long tradition of ballads and songs, the people of the Faroes simply cannot stop singing. Vocal traditions have been exceptionally rich and versatile, as there were no musical instruments of significance until the mid 1800s the voice was the only music-making tool available, and as a result, singing is deeply anchored in the Faroese national identity.
Today, however, the voice stands no longer alone, and the instrumental variations and creations have no ending.
BUZZING MUSIC. The Faroe Islands music scene is buzzing and artists and creators across all genres are delivering world class performances and recordings. Teitur and Eivør are undoubtedly among the best known artists internationally. Their respective careers span over more than a decade and both enjoy international acclaim. The metal scene is alive too and the Viking Metal band Týr has a successful career in Europe as the charismatic dark doom metal band Hamferð is knocking on new doors.
Two new artists within the alternative music are singer, songwriter, theatre composer and actor Budam and the avant-garde Orka, who have wowed media and audiences across Europe.
MUSIC ALIVE. “The most curious place left on earth” New York Times stated after attending the yearly G! Festival and the Guardian claimed it as "probably the wildest event on the festival calendar" . The live music scene is indeed curious and wild. The thriving live music scene is taking people by surprise, and without a doubt the G! Festival has brought the world's attention to Faroese music. Most festivals take place during the summer time and in August the popular Summerfestival in Klaksvik, Northern islands is hosting thousands of happy festival-goers.
Other annual festivals in the Faroe Islands include Fjarðafestivalurin, a Christian music festival and Summartónar, a festival for classical and contemporary music, including Jazz and experimental. The Faroes also host what is probably the smallest Folk music festival in the world – sometimes described as “the hidden festival” as it primarily promoted by word of mouth. The latest festival news is the Winter Jazz Days taking place during the cold dark winter months of January and February.
Since 1983 the Nordic House in Torshavn has been an active contributor to the Faroese music scene. Every year this prime venue offers high-quality performances from around the world.
On a smaller scale, Tutl, the record company, offers weekly free concerts in their shop in Tórshavn city centre and numerous smaller venues regularly promote live music.
ISLAND JAZZ. Since the foundation of the local Jazz Club in 1975 the Faroe Islands jazz scene has been active. Current artists include Yggdrasil, a cross-national collaboration lead by Kristian Blak, the founder and owner of TUTL, which is the largest record company in the Faroes. Tutl is collectively owned by musicians and composers, who have released their music through the label, and is unique amongst labels as it emphasises total artistic freedom. The Tutl shop in Tórshavn is the only music store in the world that is dedicated to Faroese music. Other jazz artists includeMagnus Johannesen best known for his lyrical playing and melodic perspective. In recent years Magnus has emerged as a composer and orchestrator.
CONTEMPORARY. The Faroe Islands have a rich pool of active contemporary music composers. Sunleif Rasmussen is the most acclaimed internationally. Kristian Blak, Tróndur Bogason, Atli Petersen and Kári Bæk are all among composers with regular commissions from local and international artists. The ensemble Aldubáran is dedicated to perform and promote Faroese music. They have recorded several albums with music by Faroese composers and regularly tour across Europe with Faroese repertoire.
COMPLETE SYMPHONY. Against all odds and with a population of approximately 50.000 the Faroes have managed to put together its very own symphony orchestra. Conductor of the Faroe Islands Symphony Orchestra is mr. Bernharður Wilkinson and the orchestra is made up of a mixture of accomplished students and professional musicians, all of whom are teachers in the Faroese Music School. The orchestra also includes talented amateurs and Faroese people that are pursuing musical educations abroad. The orchestra is further strengthened professional musicians from abroad.
The rich singing traditions are manifested in the many choirs on islands. The Torshavn Choir was founded by Ólavur Hátún pioneer and choirmaster. In 2011 the choir celebrated 45 years of existence. The more recent chamber choir Tarira with Sunleif Rasmeussen as choirmaster has firmly established its reputation through many high level international performances. Today the international classical scene is enjoying some of our classical talents in concert halls, opera houses and other prime venues across the world.
One of the most unique cultural features is the chain dance, which was originally a mediaeval ring dance. Today, it is known as the Faroese chain dance, and rightly so as it has only managed to survive in the Faroe Islands. The rhythm is quite quirky and the ballads about kings and heroes may have several hundred verses. The captain leads the singing and everybody joins in the chorus. The symbolic significance of the chain dance is the full circle of people from all walks of life who join hands and meet face-to-face on true common ground
The Faroe Islands are a nation of poets and writers. The love of poetry and story-telling is deeply rooted in Faroese culture.
For centuries Danish was the official language in the Faroe Islands and the Faroese therefore chanted and danced their literature. Secluded in the North Atlantic Ocean they preserved and renewed a common Germanic and Nordic literature from the Middle Ages in heroic dance ballads based upon legendary stories about Charle Magne and Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. Among international scholars these Faroese ballads are recognized as the distinct Faroese contribution to world literature and traits from the ballads are evident in contemporary Faroese literature.
Faroese literature is a literature of contrast between the old and the new, between tradition and innovation. In Faroese poetry of today you will find many different explorative approaches to the traditional material as well as significant influence from contemporary literature of the outside world. Faroese literature is genuine Faroese and at the same time embedded in the literary history of Europe.
The world-famous Faroese writer William Heinesen (1900-1991) sets the tone in the opening of his beautifully orchestrated novel The Lost Musicians (1950):
Far out in the radiant ocean glinting like quicksilver there lies a solitary little lead-coloured land. The tiny rocky shore is to the vast ocean just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall. But seen beneath a magnifying glass, this grain is nevertheless a whole world…
William Heinesen made modern Faroese literature known to the outside world. So did his cousin Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen (1900-1938) with the novel Barbara (1939). Written in Danish, their novels were translated into many languages. During this same period, the first half of the 20th century, a literature written in Faroese developed. In one of the best-loved classics in Faroese literature, The Old Man and his Sons (1940), the author Heðin Brú (1901-1987) eminently depicted the struggle between the old and the new in Faroese society in the middle of the 20th century.
Many years later the author Gunnar Hoydal (b. 1941) in the novel Under Southern Stars (1992) combined the Faroe Islands and the original cultures of South America in a story of cultural discovery. The novel was by the English author Fay Weldon characterized as a major work of literature. In 2005 and 2006 the writer Carl Jóhan Jensen received much critical attention both in and outside the Faroe Islands for his ground-breaking novel Un – Tales of Devilry (2005). In recent years many Faroese poets and writers have been translated and published outside the Faroe Islands, e.g. Jóanes Nielsen, Tóroddur Poulsen, Marjun S. Kjelnæs and Hanus Kamban. Writers of children’s literature have been exceptionally successful, e.g. Bárður Oskarson with his book A Dog, a Cat and a Mouse (2004).
The poets and writers of the Faroe Islands are aware of the deep rooted traditions of Faroese poetry and story-telling and they move confidently into the realms of world literature.
Bergur Djurhuus Hansen.