Intercultural Conference Addresses Ways to Fight Xenophobia

Hitt Húsið

The City of Reykjavík hosted this year’s Intercultural Conference at the youth centre Hitt Húsið, which was by all accounts well attended and well received. Speakers and attendees alike related their experiences with xenophobia and racism, as well as ways to combat it.

Translations and accents

Amongst the events at the conference was one led by First Lady Eliza Reid, entitled “Can good literary translations involve inclusion?”, which explored the idea of translated literature establishing better connections between cultures.

Yet another event explored the oft-overlooked subject of Icelandic spoken with an accent. Many people of foreign origin in Iceland who speak Icelandic will do so with an accent, and this event sought to examine how this affects one’s self-image, how those with Icelandic as a mother tongue respond to Icelandic with an accent, and related subjects.

Young people and racism

One of the other more compelling events was an open discussion group for young people aged 13 through 18. This event was coordinated in cooperation between Nordic Pioneers, the anti-racist group Antirasistarnir and Isabel Díaz, Iceland’s UN Youth Delegate on Education, Science and Culture.

Some of these attendees who spoke to RÚV recounted being subjected to bullying and slurs, in school and in the workplace, as well as more subtle kinds of racism. As one example, Kristín Taiwo Reynisdóttir was adopted and brought to Iceland when she was just a couple weeks old. Despite this, she says, she is repeatedly asked where she is from because she is Black. Other people of colour who attended expressed frustration with always being addressed in English first, no matter how long they have lived in Iceland, based on the presumptions others make because of their skin colour.

Women of foreign origin and education

Towards the end of the conference, W.O.M.E.N., an organisation of women of foreign origin in Iceland, led a panel discussion about how, despite their numbers, women of foreign origin are seldom in policy-making positions and are underrepresented in other spheres of society as well.

On a brighter note, the open discussion of young people raised several ideas for how xenophobia and racism can be combated. One of the more prevalent ideas to arise was education–for students, parents and teachers alike. Antirasistarnir offers such education for interested schools, as well as making themselves available to students struggling with xenophobia.

As about one quarter of Reykajvík’s residents are of foreign origin, the conference was by all accounts well received.

Film Course Aims to Give Young People a ‘Space Where They Can Be Free’

A film course taught by Lee Lynch, an American filmmaker living in Iceland, aims to both introduce young people to a broad range of experimental film as well as to give them the opportunity to create their own, mbl.is. Called “Teenage Wasteland of the Arts” (a title inspired by the song “Baba O’Reily” by the British badn The Who, the course which is now being offered for the sixth time at Hitt Húsið.

Lee, who holds a master’s from the University of Southern California and has shown his own films at festivals such as Sundance, Rotterdam, and Tribeca, says the class introduces students to “video art and sound art…and we look at New Wave filmmaking, theater, experimental animation, and sound collages.” In addition, students are given the opportunity to make their own video art and learn, among other things, how to produce and edit their own YouTube videos and use a variety of analog effects.

Lee says that film played an important and empowering role in his young life and he hopes it will do the same for his students. “…I was fourteen years old when I started making movies. Sometimes, I hated school and at that time, my parents were going through a difficult divorce. Filmmaking got me through that difficult time but I was the only teenager who was involved in stuff like that in the little town I grew up in. I hope to be able to offer young filmmakers and video artists a space where they can be free from everything else that is going on in their lives and that they have no control over. Space where they can express themselves among similarly minded people and help Iceland’s fantastic film scene grow and flourish.”

Learn more about the course – which is offered for students aged 16 – 25 and taught in English – on its Facebook page, here.