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Gitte Dæhlin (1956–2012) was a Norwegian artist who moved to Mexico in the late 1970s. Her sculpture She Who Carries the Memory of this Earth, Where Does this Earth Carry Her?, made of leather, textile and horse hair, presents a woman carrying an almost unbearably heavy load, whose naked feet connect her directly with the Earth. The sculpture places the woman, the Indigenous, the one who guards the land, who takes care of it and enables it to grow, at its centre. Dæhlin’s practice falls within the long history of artists in Latin America advocating social justice for Indigenous communities.
Before moving to Oaxaca, Dæhlin spent over two decades in Chiapas working closely with the local community, at a time when the Zapatistas were consolidating as a movement that would call globally for agricultural, land and Indigenous rights, and operate locally through intense solidarity, resilience and resurgence actions. This period in Mexico’s history became infamous with stolen elections, corruption and mismanaged natural resources, as well as natural disasters, that plunged the country into a social and financial crisis.
This reality led Dæhlin to commit her life to activism, as well as art. These two roles never merged publically, since she didn’t speak much about her political engagement and didn’t want her art to have a reductive interpretation. Yet if She Who Carries the Memory of this Earth, Where Does this Earth Carry Her? is read in the context in which it was created, it must be a call to question the conflicted realities in Mexico. Perhaps that this woman exposes the failure of class and race-led hegemonies and ruling constituencies and asks that Indigenous communities and particularly women be included in democratic governance?
Dæhlin’s life and work preveals solidarity networks between Mexico and Norway, and across generations. Dæhlin’s daughter is Maritea Dæhlin, also a part of this exhibition; she represents a third generation of engaged female artists initiated by her grandmother the ceramicist Lisbeth Dæ.hlin (1922–2012). Gitte Dæhlin was among the first students to attend Vestlandets Kunstakademi from 1974–77, studying under B.rd Breivik and Morten Krogh. Krogh’s solidarity work within the GRAS artist group, and as director of Kunstnernes Hus, were influential for Dæhlin’s early work.