In Nuuk Art Museum is on view the artwork Past and Present (d. Fortid og nutid) by artist Robert Holmene. The artwork is from 2008 and was made in several versions, one of which is exhibited in Ilulissat Art Museum.

Past and Present depicts a drum dancer, from the waist up, as a white silhouette on a black ground. Looking at it up close, we can notice that the black and white subject is not painted on a plain canvas, but onto computer bits and pieces sticking out of a wooden surface.

Robert Holmene worked for a number of years at Air Greenland. There he collected a large amount of parts from scrapped computers. All these bits and pieces are screwed onto chipboard from a box which contained a sling-gear for an S-61 helicopter.

Robert Holmene got the idea for Past and Present back in 1994. He originally wanted the background to be composed of flat computer bits, and then paint onto it a landscape by Emanuel A. Petersen – a Danish painter who realized a lot of romantic paintings of Greenland from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Instead, the different bits and pieces were arranged so to fit together on the board. Holmene found the motif of the drum dancer on the website a picture of a drum dancer called Maratse from East Greenland.

Even though it may seem as if the white silhouette stood out from the black background, Holmene actually painted it the other way around. The chipboard with the computer parts was first painted white and only after that was black added.

The drum dancer is a traditional motif in Greenlandic art. Several figurines of drum dancers in different postures are for instance to be found in Nuuk Art Museum’s collection. In Past and Present, Holmene repeats the familiar Greenlandic motif of the drum dancer, but by superimposing it to a computer background – that to some looks like a metropolis – he also creates a new meaning. A modern world meets a traditional world.

Maybe Past and Present poses the question of how drum dance and tradition belong in our modern world. Or maybe, like a couple of students visiting the museum suggested, it says something about how even though we have become “modern”, with computers, technology and big cities, we are still part of tradition and carry it within us.

Robert Holmene is represented in Nuuk Art Museum’s collection by other three works of art: tupilaks carved out of reindeer antlers. Holmene began his artistic career carving tupilaks, encouraged among others by Svend Junge, the founder of Nuuk Art Museum; he worked for a while on his tupilaks in the museum’s workshop, now Iluliaaraq.

Robert Holmene is also a satire cartoonist, the creator of the cartoon Buaarsikkut; he was part of Nuuk Art Museum’s exhibition Greenland’s Satire Drawings in 2015-2016.

This article was written by Stine Lundberg Hansen. 2016.