PARTICIPATE OR PERISH: Trinh T. Minh-Ha and Pia Arke
by Sofie B. Ringstad (2020, Kunsthochschule Weißensee)

As I read the introduction to Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s ‘When the Moon Waxes Red’, I saw that a juxtaposition with the work of Greenlandic artist and researcher Pia Arke would help me contextualize the text. This is because the Circumpolar North and especially Greenland has been the focus point of my practice and work for the past years. In particular, I have studied how just as there exists a so-called ‘Global South’, there is also a ‘Global Far North’, an area sharing many histories and challenges with its austral twin – such as colonizing, resource extraction, and as a result economic dependency on the ‘West’.

In this kinship, I also find the parallels between Trinh T. Minh-Ha and Pia Arke. As the latter notes in her remarkable 1995 text ‘Ethno-aesthetics’: ‘[…] there are quite a few of us who don’t belong neither in the West, nor in the marginalized rest of the world’ (Arke, 28:1995), and similarly to Minh-Ha, Arke saw ‘marginality as a starting point rather than an ending point’ (Minh-Ha, 19:1991). By scrutinizing notions of ‘centre’ and ‘fringe’, they both critically re-invented their identities, and the space in which they had to manoeuvre as artists and as humans. Minh-Ha finds herself in the ‘colonial periphery’ (Minh-Ha, 16:1991), as does Arke, who states that there ‘[…] is a sense of urgent necessity about our play with the pieces of different worlds’ (Arke, 28:1995) and called for ‘a third place that will seriously disturb the binary logic of First and Third world relations.’ (Arke, 28:1995).

A need evokes: A hole must be poked in the Eurocentric spatial and temporal understanding imposed on the rest of the world – their world. Minh-Ha will no longer be measured ‘with inadequate sticks designed for their own morbid purpose.’ (Minh-Ha, 16:1991). In her films, she seems to provoke the hyper-ethnic, the hyper-exotified, its surface easily accepted by ‘they’. For instance in ‘Forgetting Vietnam’, where the touristic, folkloric version of her homeland is painstakingly performed in image, with its trauma echoed in sound and text. Arke, too, is trapped in the in-between: As she formulated the paradox of being too ethnic, or not ethnic enough – the ‘numerously varying forms of centralism and of marginalization’ (Minh-Ha, 18:1991) – she made works such as ‘Untitled (Put your kamik on your head so everyone can see where you come from)’ from 1993, where she played with the impossibility of Greenlandic identity and its tropes.

Seeing how both artists address similar artistic and historical themes, the point is made that the supposed ‘fringe’ in which the artists find themselves, is itself heterogeneous but also possibly unified, and in that sense, a form of ‘centre’ in its own right. Potentially – in Arkes word’s – a ‘third place’.


Arke, P., 2010, Ethno-Aesthetics / Etnoæstetik, Pia Arke Selskabet & Kuratorisk Aktion, Copenhagen.

Minh-Ha, T.T., 1991, When the Moon Waxes Red, Routledge, New York.