Nordic Race Science
Nordic Race Science is a large wall drawing, which is a survey of central figures in the race science in the Nordic countries between 1850s and 1945. The work is Henriksson’s result of a collaborative research by the artists together with archaeologist Fredrik Svanberg, then head of research at the Swedish History Museum. The work has been previously displayed in exhibition ‘History Unfolds’ in the Swedish History Museum in 2016-17 and slightly revised in exhibition Suomi Finland 101 in Vantaa Art Museum in autumn 2018.
The work introduces the main race scientists in Nordic countries, who were measuring human skulls and living people in order to categorise humans into ‘races’ and place them in hierarchical order in relation to each other. This pseudo-science, which was very popular widely in the Western countries in the 19th and early 20th Century, was one of the most respected and state supported scientific disciplines in the Nordic countries. The so-called ‘Aryan-Germanic race’ was regarded as the highest human development, and the Nordic scientists placed their own ethnicity as part of it, or in its close proximity. Class played a role as well in this science, and the elité and notable representatives of cultural and scientific achievements were usually also the most ‘racially advanced’. In all the Nordic countries indigenous people were an object of research and their oppression was justified by their supposed ‘racial inferiority’ verified by the science.
Next to the anatomists practicing the racist science, the drawing also includes collectors of human remains, institutions and patrons, as well as artists who produced images of the constructed white ‘Nordic race’, and the ‘exotic others’. The close relation between fine art and race science proves how, in its time, race science also exerted great influence on many other fields. When race science was deemed unpopular after World War II, in these other fields its products still keep influencing our world view.
The work ‘Nordic Race Science’ addresses a topic that has not been adequately dealt with in most of the Nordic countries. Swedish race scientific institutions are relatively known, but the scientific projects in Finland and Norway, funded by these governments, have been much less discussed. The race scientists were respected members of the national elite. The Nordic countries were united in a web of connections around the science.
The project was commissioned by the Swedish History Museum in 2016. Since then Henriksson has updated it and shown it in art context. The drawing has also been exhibited in a scientific context in exhibition Legacies of Eugenics, the Wiener Holocaust Library, Oxford Brookes University, 2021, curated by Professor Marius Turda.
In Hamburg Kunsthaus, exhibition SPEAKING BACK – Decolonizing Nordic Narratives, a collage of cut out landscapes was exhibited next to the drawing. These landscapes are products of similar colonial instrumentalisation of the Sapmi as the racist pseudo-science targeting the Sami people.
Reference to material used in the collage:
Photography by Lotten von Duben in I Lappland / In Lappland. Alfabeta bokförlag, 1991
Photography by E. Mikkola, J. Ahola and C. W. Stenbäck in Lappland : Handbok för Turister,
Turistförening i Finland. Weiling & Göös, Helsinki 1938
Artwork by Alfred Mahlau in Zwiegespräch Zwischen den Völkern : Deutschland und Der Norden,
Herausgegeben von der Nordischen Gesellschaft, Lübeck 1940
Photographs by Schreis Bilderdienst, Berlin and OKW, Abt. Milgeo, Berlin in Wehrmachtin
Matkaopas Suomeen (translation from original: Der Norden Sonderlehrgang 2. Teil – 46.
Sammelband der Schriftenreihe Soldatenbriefe zur Berufsförderung), Ajatus-Kirjat, Helsinki 2006
Photographer Hugo Adolf Bernatzik in Lapland, The Travel Book Club, London 1938
Photographer Esko Suomalainen in Suomen erämaiden kauneus : kuvia Kuusamosta ja Sallasta =
Det finska ödemarkernas skönhet : bilder från Kuusamo och Salla, Otava, Helsinki 1938
Photographer Esko Suomalainen in Suomen luonnon kauneutta / The Beauties of Nature in
Finland / Die Schönheit der finnischen Natur /, Otava, Helsinki 1952
Photographers E. Mikkola, T. I. Haataja, E. Maamies, W. W. Wilkman, E. Suomalainen, H.
Berghell, Eero Suominen in eds. J. E. Rosberg, Kaarlo Hilden, Erkki Mikkola Suomenmaa IX.2.
Oulun Lääni, WSOY, Porvoo 1931
Photographer Curt Biging in Inari. Eine Lapplandfaht. Dem Finnischen Volke Zugeeignet,
Büchergilde Gutenberg Berlin, 1929
Photographers Aulis E. Hämäläinen, I Hustich, P. Ekbom, Wolter C. Stenbäck in Lappland : Das
Märchenland des hohen Nordens, Touristenverein in Finnland, WSOY, Helsinki 1942
Ed. Maija Suova, Das Ist Suomi : Finnland in Bild und Wort, WSOY, Porvoo 1942