Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Nordic charmer

Artist Joar Nango's art weaves together his cultural and artistic identities

Joar Nango's art is on display at Ottawa's SAW Gallery.
Joar Nango makes a life of occupying the space between things. Based in Tromsø (a small town in the far north of Norway), the artist/architect grew up straddling cultures. Born to a Norwegian mother and a Sami father (the indigenous people of the country’s northernmost region) he credits his upbringing with giving him a more intricate way of seeing the world.
“Society likes to polarize culture and see things in concrete dichotomies,” he says. “But coming from mixed heritage, I find those black-and-white ideas hard to relate to. I’m interested in breaking up these simplified versions of the world in my work and creating a more complex understanding of identity.”
Though he often creates large-scale outdoor projects, for his current exhibition he opted for photos, sculptures and textile works (a product of confirming the show only a few months in advance). Based on the idea of nomadic architecture (temporary structures composed from available materials), the show features hand-knitted woollen sweaters and photos of makeshift doghouses hanging alongside distilled birch-sap sculptures and mixed tapes of indigenous hip hop. 
“It came out of a larger project I was doing, looking at the design tradition of the north and how it’s influenced by geography,” he says. “When I was studying in the south of Norway, I felt almost like I was being taught to forget my background, so it was important for me to create a bank of knowledge that takes these traditions seriously.”
The show taps both his cultural and artistic identities. Just as he’s situated between Norwegian and Sami culture, Nango lives simultaneously in the worlds of fine art and architecture. He was turned down when he applied to study art at university, so he opted for his second choice of architecture (thanks to a natural knack for math and science). In the professional world, however, he’s made space for himself in both camps.
“I’ve always been involved in both art and architecture projects, and to me it doesn’t really matter how I define my work,” he says. “The divisions between art and architecture are really created at an institutional level, and it isn’t that important if I go to bed at night thinking I’m one or the other. I’ve always had a bit of a prankster in me. I’m drawn to the bad kids, graffiti, hip-hop culture and other alternative communities, partly to escape the constant simplification of my own identity.”