Sjón Interview: On Iceland



Award-winning Icelandic writer and poet Sjón here humorously contemplates the complex relationship between the coloniser and the colonised – Denmark and Iceland – and how being Icelandic has shaped him as a writer.

“The general belief is still that we were never properly colonised. That we were always independent in our hearts, because we had the literature and we kept the language. So people like to believe that we do not have the same symptoms as the former colonies in Africa or the Caribbean or in Asia.” During the financial crash it became apparent that many of Iceland’s social institutions weren’t rooted the same way as in other countries – e.g. the Icelandic constitution was a present in 1874 from the Danish king – and the fundaments of this constitution was therefore never discussed as it had been elsewhere. Symptomatic of this, the Icelandic press did not appear to be ready to criticize what had been going on in the years leading up to the crash: “We do not have the tradition of discussing the fundaments of society.”

“I think the Danish kings were having endless troubles with this needy colony up in the north.” Things were not black and white when it came to the interaction between Denmark and Iceland, where the latter didn’t produce much for its coloniser to gain from: “If you look at it like that, you have a different story than the grim coloniser oppressing some poor people.”

Sjón also credits his own confidence as a writer to the nature of the Icelandic character, which has always been used to venture into the world on bold quests: “I think if you have the confidence to go to the big cultural centres of the world and bring back whatever you need, you also have the confidence of taking what you create and bringing it to a mix.”

Sjón (b. 1962 as Sigurjón Birgir Sigurosson in Reykjavík) is an Icelandic writer, poet, playwright and lyricist. He received the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2005 for his novel ‘The Blue Fox’ (‘Skugga-Baldur’, 2003). Sjón has been active on the Icelandic music scene since the early 1980s and is also known for his collaborations with legendary Icelandic musician Björk and was nominated for an Academy Award as well as a Golden Globe for the song ‘I’ve Seen It All’ from the film ‘Dancer in the Dark’. Sjón lived and worked in London for several years and currently resides in Reykjavík with his wife and children.

Sjón was interviewed by Bjørn Bredal in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2014.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by: Sonja Strange
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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