Nikel, Murmansk and artistic inspiration

The image of Nikel was transferred to textile
The image of Nikel was transferred to textile

I’m not just a traveler, I’m also an artist and it’s probably affecting my view on the world. It affects what I see, what I am doing and what I am looking forward to and what I choose to bring home, both of memories, inspiration and physical objects.

People often ask when I’m going to make art inspired by Africa – with animals, jungle and warm colors. The fact is that I have made many works of art inspired by Africa. But it is not always that clear. The impressions from all our travels suck into me like a sponge and in my head they get twisted and entwisted until it comes out, sometimes unrecognizable.

Inspiration can mean a lot of things. It can be smells, tastes, people, colors and experiences or moods. All of these impressions form a background for my artistic activity when I’m not traveling around the world. I do not always know where inspiration comes from, but I know that our travels give me energy, joy and knowledge, and inspiration depends very much on these factors to flourish and grow.

Then something happens! You see something and you know that you have to work on it artistically once you get home. To me it most often happens when I get upset, angry or really sorry. All these feelings grabbed me when I travelled to Russia from Kirkenes in Norway with 4-5 other ladies. During the weekend I had teached at a workshop and together with some of the participants from Oslo, we all decided to take 3 days in Murmansk.

We hired a minibus and a local man as a guide and crossed the border towards Nikel and Murmansk. Everyone has heard of Nikel? The city in the wilderness, where nothing grows, where the trees die and the people live a hard and poor life. I had seen pictures, but must admit that I did not think it was as bad as it actually was when we in rain and sludge approached the city. High factory chimneys and box-like apartments buildings stood up in the middle of the tundra. It all seemed very sad and gray.

A sweet girl in the nursery in Nikel
A sweet girl in the nursery in Nikel

Our plan was to stop for an hour or two and visit a kindergarten supported by people in Kirkenes. Our guide had been there many times before and had made an appointment for our visit. The house was in a very poor condition, the playground outside looked completely terrible and the surroundings gave an impression of such poverty I have never seen or experienced before. Poverty in an Arctic climate on an Arctic blowing plain was a much worse sight than anything I have experienced in Africa. I might compare it with some of my experiences as a child in India, but seeing the apartment blocks with broken windows and demolished doors in this ice-cold climate, was a shock. And it is not far from our Norwegian border, approx. 8 km.

Manipulation - Nickel and Daims
Manipulation – Nickel and Dimes

This impression became a work of art, made in rage and sorrow over how capital interests can destroy people and communities. The average age for men in this area, was only 52 years, it certainly has not changed. Either they drink themselves to death or get killed in a traffic accident, if they do not get sick due to air pollution and poverty. Nikel has around 12,000 inhabitants, all of which depend on the nickel industry. The raw materials are processed and have a high content of nickel and other heavy metals and are also sulfurized. It is not invested in any measures to limit harmful emissions, toxic fumes roll all over the town and its inhabitants.

Our visit to the nursery gave us all a positive feeling though and it was touching to see the good care the children got and the joy they showed when they were to tell us what they learned and entertain us. The staff seemed very professional and also proud of what they had achieved with the help of people in Kirkenes. A good experience in spite of the horrible conditions outside this charming nursery.

In my work “Manipulation – Nikel and Dimes” I have used the hand as a symbol of the forces behind that have all control (like the marionett). The picture of Nikel was taken from the bus while we left the city. I have increased sharpness and contrast in Photoshop and then transferred it to textile using a glue technique. Glue is applied to the front of the image and then applied to the fabric; it must be dried and fixed with heat. Then it is time to remove the paper, a tedious process using water, and the image appears. The artwork has been on a few exhibitions and was sold to great people here in my hometown, Fredrikstad.

ar memorial statue on the way to Murmansk
War memorial statue on the way to Murmansk

Traveling is not just enjoying life, lying on a beach, drinking good wine or walking in a peaceful mountain world. Traveling is also meeting local conditions for better or worse, getting upset, getting angry and learning more about society and the world around us. I notice that as an artist I become more inspired, or in other words; I get more energy to create when I am angry, upset or sad. It’s the problems of life that creates challenges and gives you knowledge and creativity.

You can se more of my art on my website.


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