I’ve just spent a week in a very white place. The snow fell solidly for two days, and everything was white – the air, the ground, the trees, the streets. And to complete the picture, the houses, in the little seaside town south of Oslo, blended in perfectly, being painted pure, brilliant white. When I got back to a green(ish) Scotland, I didn’t sigh with relief, “Thank goodness, I’m finally out of that racist hellhole.” But perhaps I should have.
According to Norwegian academics, “whiteness” and “white supremacy” are terms to take literally, and the colour white, in particular the white paint that is so commonly used on Norwegian houses, equals racism. Had it been the first of April, I would have assumed this was a hoax, but alas this is serious, state-funded stuff.
From the research project ‘How Norway Made the World Whiter (NorWhite)’ co-authored by Ingrid Haland, an associate professor at the University of Bergen, we learn that:
Whiteness is one of today’s key societal and political concerns. Within and beyond academia worldwide, actions of revolt and regret seek to cope with our racial past. In the pivotal works in whiteness studies within art and architecture history, whiteness is understood as cultural and visual structures of privilege. The new research project ‘How Norway Made the World Whiter’ (NorWhite) funded by the Research Council of Norway (12 million NOK), addresses a distinctively different battleground for politics of whiteness in art and architecture. Two core premises underpin the project: Whiteness is not only a cultural and societal condition tied to skin colour, privileges, and systematic exclusion, but materialise everywhere around us. Second, one cannot understand this materialisation without understanding the societal, technological and aesthetic conditions of the colour itself.
Following this inane logic, I should be ashamed at owning a white house, but perhaps pleased that my parents’ cabin in the mountains is painted brown? Or is that cultural appropriation?
This state-funded project (everything in Norway is state-funded, by the way) goes on to say that it will show how Norway, although not a “conventional colonial power” (what’s an unconventional colonial power?), has nevertheless “played a globally leading role in establishing white as a superior colour”. A grandiose claim that perhaps requires more evidence?
“Until now, however, this story has been lesser known to scholars and the public,” the description reads. Not for much longer!
NorWhite will connect the challenging topics: whiteness, technological innovation, and mass-exploitation of natural resources in a single case study. The research project will study the Norwegian innovations the chemical compound titanium dioxide (TiO2) and the white pigment titanium white in a historical, aesthetic, and critical lens – focusing on how the innovations transformed surfaces in art, architecture, and design – in order to show how aesthetic – and thereby societal – transformation is driven by technological development.
Read More: Is White Paint Racist?