Black Imaginaries, Scandinavian Diasporas

March 5-7, 2019

Join Jeannette Ehlers (Denmark/Trinidad), Ellen Nyman (Sweden), and La Vaughn Belle (St. Croix) for three events in a series of conversations on the aesthetics of decolonization. These artists will discuss how their art practices across different media are designed to provoke conversation about colonial legacies and contemporary racial politics on the ground in Sweden, Denmark, and St. Croix.

All events are free and open to the public.

Imagining Race in Scandinavia: Panel Discussion
Featuring Jeannette Ehlers, Ellen Nyman, and La Vaughn Belle, moderated by Monica Miller
6:00pm – 7:30pm
5 March 2019
Event Oval, Diana Center
3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027

Faculty Seminar and Luncheon
Featuring Jeannette Ehlers, Ellen Nyman, and La Vaughn Belle
12:00pm – 1:30pm
6 March 2019
BCRW Conference Room, 6th Floor, Milstein Center
31 Claremont Avenue, New York, NY 10027
RSVP to Tami Navarro at

Artists’ Presentation
Featuring Jeannette Ehlers, Ellen Nyman, and La Vaughn Belle, Moderated by Tami Navarro
7 March 2019
Digital Humanities Center, Ground Floor, Milstein Center
31 Claremont Avenue, New York, NY 10027

In recent years, artists/activists in Denmark, Sweden, and St. Croix have been at the forefront of movements to acknowledge and reckon with Scandinavia’s colonial history and the relation of this history to racial imaginaries and modes of national belonging in Europe and the Caribbean.  The year 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of Danish rule in the Danish West Indies, which then became known as the US Virgin Islands; the occasion was marked in both Denmark and across the US Virgin Islands through commemorations and celebrationsas well as attendant critiqueon both sides of this divide.  Since 2010, there has been what some scholars are calling an “AfroSwedish Movement” or “AfroSwedish Renaissance” in which Swedes of African descent are demanding that Sweden abandon its mythology of exceptionality when it comes to the European perpetration of the slave trade and imperialism and acknowledge its own role in the slave trade and its aftermath (Swedes built the Cape Coast “slave” castle in Ghana, owned St, Barthélemy (St. Barts) in the Caribbean for nearly 100 years, participated in the savage exploitation of the Belgian Congo).  AfroSwedes are doing this even though they do not hail directly from this colonial intervention; instead, they understand that the way black people and black cultures are apprehended in contemporary Sweden results, in a large part, from the lack of acknowledgement of this colonial imaginary of race and blackness in Sweden. These conversations are important parts of a larger reckoning across the Nordic countries with race and their racialized pasts, as Iceland is currently in the midst of re-evaluating their engagement with its “first black citizen,” Hans Jonathan, an enslaved man who escaped his owners in St. Croix and fled to Iceland in the early 1800s. In their artistic and scholarly work, Ehlers, Nyman, and Belle have been creating vital conversations about the necessity of creative confrontation of these histories and the aesthetics of freedom and domination.

These events are organized by Monica L. Miller, Associate Professor, Departments of English and Africana Studies, and Tami Navarro, Associate Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, with generous support from the Weiss Fellowship for Visiting International Fellows, co-sponsored by BCRW.

About the Artists

Jeannette Ehlers is a video, photo and performance artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. For years she has created artworks that delve into ethnicity and identity inspired by her own Danish and Caribbean background. Her pieces revolve around big questions and difficult issues, such as Denmark’s role as a slave nation—a part of the Danish cultural heritage, which often gets overlooked in the general historiography. She has exhibited and performed in such institutions as AROS, Åarhus, Denmark; the Museum of Latin American Art, Los Angeles; the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool; the McKenna Museum of African American Art, New Orleans; Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, Denmark; and, the Pérez Art Museum, Miami. For more visit her website.

Belle and Ehlers have recently worked together on the project “I AM Queen Mary,” a large-scale public sculpture of the historical figure Queen Mary—a woman from St. Croix who among the leaders of the infamous “Fireburn” labor uprising on that island. This sculpture, which was installed directly in front of the West Indian Warehouse in Copenhagen, has received much international press coverage since its unveiling in March 2018, including articles in the BBC World News, New York Times, and Le Monde.

Ellen Nyman (SE) is an actor, director and visual artist. Her research and practice bears an interdisciplinary focus on performativity and blackness within performing and visual art. Recent work and collaborations include: Black revolutionaries don’t fall from the moon (2017, Stockholm) a play influenced by the biography of Assata Shakur, and the video works Sicherheit (2017) shown alongside with Danish Election (2004) made with artists Corina Oprea and Saskia Holmkvist and featured at GIBCA Gothenburg Biennial, 2017. Nyman is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Stockholm University of the Arts and rehearsing for the upcoming staging of playwright Tracy Letts, Mary Page Marlowe at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Sweden.

La Vaughn Belle is best known for working with the coloniality of the Virgin Islands, both in its past relationship to Denmark and its present one with the United States. She works in a variety of disciplines that include: painting, installation, photography, video and public interventions. Borrowing from elements of architecture, history and archeology Belle creates narratives that challenge colonial hierarchies and invisibility. She has exhibited her work in the Caribbean, the USA and Europe in institutions such as the Museo del Barrio (NY), Casa de las Americas (Cuba), the Museum of the African Diaspora (CA) and Christiansborg Palace (DK). Her art is in the collections of the National Photography Museum and the Vestsjælland Museum in Denmark. Her work with colonial era pottery led to a commision with the renowned brand of porcelain products, the Royal Copenhagen. She is the co-creator of “I Am Queen Mary”, the artist-led groundbreaking monument that confronted the Danish colonial amnesia while commemorating the legacies of resistance of the African people who were brought to the former Danish West Indies. The project was featured in over 100 media outlets around the world including the NY Times, Politiken, VICE, the BBC and Le Monde. Belle holds a MFA from the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba and a MA and BA from Columbia University in NY. She is currently Artist-in-Residence at the Social Justice Institute at the Barnard Research Center for Women at Barnard College, Columbia University. Her studio is based in the Virgin Islands.

Above text adapted from webpage.