Museum won’t fly Norway’s flag

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The director of an art museum in Trondheim is refusing to swap the museum’s own plain, purple flag with the official Norwegian flag on days of national significance, arguing that art should be freed from nationalism. His proclamation on Tuesday stirred immediate debate.

The director of Trondheim's art museum says he won't replace the museum's neutral flag with the Norwegian flag, which is supposed to fly on all public buildings on national flag days. PHOTO: Pontus Kyander

That’s exactly what Pontus Kyander, director of Trondheim Kunstmuseum, wanted to do when he declared on the museum’s social media site that the Norwegian flag will never fly from the museum building as long as he’s director. Since it’s not a state-owned institution, the museum is under no obligation to do so, but most public buildings raise the flag on so-called flaggedager, the next one being the upcoming Olsok holiday on Sunday.

“During my time at the museum, a national flag will never be hoisted,” wrote Kyander, who was born in Finland in 1959. He said, however, that exceptions would be made “for Roma, Sami or other ‘nations’ without territories.”

He claimed that the museum “invites everyone, regardless of origin or attachment to any place. Nations are ideas of the 19th century. Lets find better common ground!”

Museum director Pontus Kyander PHOTO: Trondheim Kunstmuseum

Kyander claims that a flag “can be used and misused.” By refusing to fly the national flag of Norway, he said he’s inviting discussion on what flags mean.

“A national flag can symbolize nationalism, which in the worst case means that a nation views itself as better than another,” said Kyander, just days before the Summer Olympics begin in London where nations will compete to have the best athletes, and where flags play a major role. His remarks also follow a weekend of national memorials over victims of last year’s terrorist attacks, when flags waved all over the country, also at half-staff at the time.

Some local politicians told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) they could hardly believe what they were hearing when reports started emerging on Tuesday of Kyander’s refusal to fly the flag.

“Kyander is kicking the flag into the lap of nationalists and extremists,” the county leader for the Liberal Party (Venstre) in Sør-Trondelag, Trond Åm, told the website for Trondheim newspaper, adressa.no. “This is sad, because the flag is well-suited as a common bond in a society characterized by ethnic and cultural diversity.”

Åm believes the flag is also a symbol of common belonging in Norway’s liberal democracy.

The art museum in Trondheim opened a new exhibition called Sammen (Together) over the weekend, Kyander’s first as director. It explores the concept of human fellowship, with the July 22 attacks used as a starting point because they are widely viewed as having united Norwegians in grief.

“Now we need to discuss nationalism and not (the attacker’s) sanity,” Kyander said. “It’s clear the flag meant something for him that it never can mean for me and you.”

Kyander assumed his director’s post at the museum last autumn after being director of Sørlandets Kunstmuseum in Kristiansand. He was educated as an art historian at Lund University in Sweden, has worked as a critic for newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet and Sveriges Television, and been curator for a long list of exhibits both in Scandinavia and abroad. Before moving to Norway he was public art manager for the city of Auckland, NewZealand and also has been professor at EWHA University in Seoul, South Korea.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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