Jessie Kleemann

1959 | Upernavik, Greenland

Kalaaleq Inuk performance artist and poet.

Jessie Kleemann is a contemporary visual artist and poet, particularly known for her performances and performance videos. She uses her body as the primary medium in many of her works, to explore themes of memory, (de)colonialism, nationalism and Inuit culture. She also uses installation and poetry. Her poetry revolves around some of the same thematics as her visual art, and is written in Kalaallisut, Danish and English. J. Kleemann studied lithography and is a former student of the Tuukkaq Theater in Fjaltring, Denmark.
Born in Upernavik, Greenland and now living in Copenhagen, Denmark, J. Kleemann has been based between Greenland and Denmark throughout her career. After studying at Tuukkaq in 1978-1979, she went on to be the Director of the art school in Nuuk, Greenland from 1984 to 1991. In 1988 she produced Greenland’s first video art installation, KINAASUNGA, followed by Spirit Host Joins the Elements (1991-1993), in which a masked dancer is moving to a progression of drum sequences and mask changes, referencing the traditional Greenlandic mask dance, Uaajeerneq.

The generation of Kalaallit artists of which J. Kleemann is part may be considered to have radically changed and redefined contemporary art in Greenland, and includes, in addition to J. Kleemann, artists such as Pia Arke (1958-2007). This generation of artists was and is particularly focused on body art; the performer as an emancipated subject; and what (bodily) emancipation means in the context of Greenland’s colonial history and present.

With reference to internationalism, coloniality and colonial othering, J. Kleemann incorporates materials including beads and blubber in her installations and performances, questioning the relationship of these materials to Greenlandic national identity, and their impact on it, in works such as Perlekravekjole, Nuilarmiut Takisuut/Beaded dress (2012) and I tråd med tiden (2017), as well as the ORSOQ series, whose title means “seal blubber”. An installation from this series, also titled ORSOQ (2012), has been acquired by the National Gallery of Denmark as part of their collection. In 2012, J. Kleemann had a solo exhibition at Århus Kunstbygning in Denmark. The show was titled ASSAK [Hand] and included both of the works ORSOQ and Perlekravekjole, Nuilarmiut Takisuut/Beaded dress. The same year she exhibited in the North Atlantic Pavilion at the Liverpool Biennial. In 2018 J. Kleeman curated and exhibited in the group show Perler på snor – en arktisk historiefortaelling /Stitching Beads – Arctic Stories Change Hands, also including the beaded dress. In 2021, J. Kleemann published her second poetry collection entitled Arkhticós Dolorôs, following her 1997 publication Taallat. Digte. Poems.

Eli Ståhl

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