Iceland: Become Part of the Heard

This article by Jessica Ward was submitted to Fightback, in response to an article published in the April issue (Iceland’s “peaceful revolution” – myth and reality, A reply to Jessica’s article can be found here.

In today’s world it is easy to become disillusioned. It is too easy to concede to the idea we are incapable of changing the world, to give into the apathy that plagues our generation. We are not the flower children of the 60s, we misguidedly believe that unlike days gone by noone else is angry, noone else is enraged by the disparity of wealth and incensed by politics, economics and the injustices of society. We are alone. We are all alone. Aren’t we?

Today I had the opportunity of listening to Hordur Torfason at the Dunedin School of Art. It may seem a strange place for and activist and leader of the Icelandic Revolution to give a talk but all becomes clear when listening to the ideas and attitudes of this artist. Torfason stressed in his talk the need for creative solutions, the importance of art as a way of activating people and bringing them together and of protest as a form of performance, as a way of intriguing an audience of public and media.

Torfason believes that it is the role of the artist to criticize society and remember the importance of the unseen forces that dictate us, our feelings. Art has the ability to move us, to affect us, in the words of Torfason to activate us.

We live in the age of the internet: a tool to both communicate and organize. We are the 99% and we have a way of communicating, coming together and organizing action. In a world where the media is a tool owned by the 1% to systematically ensure their wealth the internet is our tool to counter it. In the age of information there is no excuse to not have a voice (given you have access to the internet of course). Communication is also highly important in the organization of revolution or protest. It is important to ask the people what they want and to listen.


Hordur Torfason is an eloquently spoken man. He wore an orange handkerchief protruding from his breast pocket as a symbol of the peaceful revolution where those who believed in peaceful means wore orange to show their support. Hordur Torfason was the first openly gay man in Iceland in 1973. After enjoying a successful career as an actor, director and musician he was forced into exile. Hordur Torfason humbly talked about how he considered taking his own life. Iceland used to be an exceedingly homophobic country where it was common place to beat gay people and the media ensured the propaganda that all gay people were criminals and pedophiles. Hordur Torfason did not give up (thankfully). He used his anger constructively and continued travelling back to Iceland to talk and to listen and to try and change people’s attitudes. Eventually he was able to move back to Iceland and created its first gay organization with gay people eventually receiving equal rights in 2008.
Hordur Torfason has a long history of activism. He is not associated with any political party and believes in complete transparency to the point he created a webpage to show the economic backers of the Icelandic revolution and the people of Iceland how and where the money was being spent.

The Icelandic Revolution succeeding in forcing the entire parliament and the National Bank’s Board of Directors to resign. These members of parliament as well as the bank directors are being tried for their crimes against the people. It is the role of the politicians to serve the people not the other way around as Hordur Torfason stresses.

Creativity played a vital role in the Icelandic Revolution. It was used to create tension and intrigue. In the protest pre-christmas of 2008 silence played a seminal role. A small group of protestors gathered outside parliament on behalf of the people who were enjoying time with their families over the festive season. The group of protestors were silent to reflect the silence of the government in response to the revolutionaries demands that they resign. This silence acted as a caesura before the “real” protest started. Under criticism from the media over the ineffectiveness of the revolution Torfason announced that so far the protests had simply been “practices”. He did not say anything else other than telling the people who were in favour of the government resigning to bring pots and pans to the next protest which was planned for after the holidays. Torfason instructed the crowd to make as much noise as possible outside of parliament and systematically continued this action every day until midnight until the entire parliament and the bank’s board of directors all resigned. This is why the Icelandic Revolution is sometimes referred to as the “Cutlery Revolution.”

Art has a long history of becoming intertwined with politics. Art over the last twenty years has increasingly occupied public spaces. Artists in response to the ubiquitous world of advertising are moving art out of the gallery and into the streets, our homes and our communities. Creative solutions to political issues can effect the lives of the audience and in some cases cause real change. Two examples of this are Ithica Hours, a form of local labour backed currency in Ithica, New York and Gurana Power.

Ithica Hours began in 1991, invented by Peter Glover is a labour based form of currency which keeps economic wealth within the community and allows people with specialist skills to receive payment for these skills. In an interview with Nilsa Garcia-Rey for Reaity Sanwich Glover gives advice on how to create your own local currency saying to “make it look both majestic and cheerful, to reflect your community’s best spirit. Feature the most widely respected monuments of nature, buildings, and people…Ithaca has used local handmade paper made of local weed fiber but recently settled on 50/50 hemp/cotton. Design professionally — cash is an emblem of community pride.” Ithica Hours is another way in which creative solutions are successfully making a difference politically as is Superflex’s Guarana Power.

In 2003 as a response to the cartel whose monopoly on the purchase of guarana drove the price paid to farmers down by 80% Superflex in collaboration with a guarana farmers cooperative worked together and produced the Guarana Power soft drink. On their website Superflex describe their intention as “to use global brands and their strategies as raw material for a counter-economic position, and to reclaim the original use of the Maués guaraná plant.” Guarana Power is an intervention in the global economy, creating a real life opposition to a powerful cartel which has driven prices for guarana down from $25 per kilo to $4 per kilo in four years despite their products remaining the same price for consumers.

There is hope. Creative solutions in response to inequality are being employed all over the world. We are all capable of thinking creatively, making some noise and becoming ourselves, a part of the heard.


  1. bazzaroo says:

    The function of any art is to make you THINK! It doesn’t matter if it’s a Mozart symphony, a ‘contempory’ painting or sculpture or whatever, just think.

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