Island of Creativity
For an isolated culture in the North Atlantic, creativity is important. Since the 9th century, when Iceland was settled, writing and music have been an integral part of life in the country. This remains true to this day, as the creative industries in Iceland employ more than 5% of the work force—a larger share than the fishing industry and agriculture combined—and generates a larger share of the GDP than agriculture.
Icelandic music in particular, has in recent years reached a large audience on a global scale thanks to the efforts of international pop stars such as Björk and Sigur Rós. Both have unquestionably been influenced by Iceland’s deep-rooted traditions. A form of narrative poetry passed down by word of mouth since the 14th century known as Old Icelandic rímur has, for instance, found its way into modern works by Sigur Rós.
Iceland has also produced a number of talented writers including 20th century Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness and more recently crime fiction writers Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Arnaldur Indriðason, whose books have been translated into many languages around the world. Iceland has a well educated population with one of the most extensive literacy rates in the world. It’s no accident that Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, became the first non-English speaking city in the world to be named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2011.
Performing arts are also a staple of Icelandic culture. Many of the country’s most respected writers create works exclusively for theatre, or adopt their previous works for the stage. Icelandic theatres enjoy great local interest, and the relatively young Icelandic dance company is quickly gaining respect, both domestically and abroad.
The film industry too has taken off in recent years, benefitting greatly from the influx of Hollywood directors who have come to these shores to make films starring Iceland’s incredible landscapes. Icelandic films have also found receptive viewers abroad. The works of director Baltasar Kormákur have been particularly successful, such as ‘101 Reykjavík,’ based on a book by Icelandic author Hallgrímur Helgason, and ‘Mýrin’ (“Jar City”), based on a book by Arnaldur Indriðason. His 2012 film ‘The Deep,’ which recounts the true story of a fisherman who miraculously swam to shore in the dead of winter after his ship sunk off the south coast of Iceland, was shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.
Icelandic artists, such as Ragnar Kjartansson, whose performance art often combines different mediums, such as paintings, music and videos; and Katrín Sigurðardóttir, whose sculptures explore the boundaries between physical structures and perception, have built upon the fine reputation of Icelandic artists to create great interest around the world.
The recent emergence video game developers on the global stage further attest to the importance of innovation and creativity for the Icelandic society. The Massively Multiplayer Online Game Eve Online and the mobile trivia game Quizup were, for instance, born in Iceland and now enjoy a great number of subscribers worldwide.
With a drive for innovation and commitment to sustainability, Icelandic designers have also come to enjoy the growing respect for Icelandic artists in international circles and at once help to bolster the country’s reputation for creativity.
Iceland is perhaps best known for its iconic wool sweater, the lopapeysa, but fashion and more generally design are now some of the more diverse and blossoming industries in Iceland. Growing and maturing with each year, Reykjavík’s annual DesignMarch festival and the Reykjavík Fashion Festival certainly attest to this.