Iceland's hidden creatures

Anna Margrét Björnsson

Artist Arngrímur Sigurðsson's fascination with the imagined beings of Icelandic folklore began at art college and are now the subject of a book which he is crowd-funding with the Karolina fund. His beautiful oil paintings of the dark, mystical imagined creatures of Iceland  struck a chord with the public and funding of the book, Duldýrasafnið,  (The museum of hidden beasts) is almost complete within less than 24 hours. 

From seamonsters to friendly trolls

"My idea began as my Bachelor of Arts project at the Icelandic Academy of Arts," explains Sigurðsson who admits a long-time fascination with the creatures that Icelandic people have imagined and believed in through the ages. The creatures include dwarves, elves, trolls, ghosts and lesser known beings such as seamonsters, milk carriers, half-humans and half-animals, giant whales, and the mythical kingdom of Tröllbotnaland.

The book features 34 pictures of oil paintings of mythical creatures with texts from Icelandic folkloric tales and Sagas describing each creature in detail, their habits and characteristics and their relationship with their human neighbours. "I finished the paintings last month," says Sigurðsson who likes the idea of publishing art in books. "It's an accessible medium which means more people can enjoy what I do than the few who actually buy a painting." The beautiful hard-cover book will be printed on 170 gram paper containing 80 pages and the aim is to have it published in English in the new year. The paintings in the book will be exhibited in Reykjavík in January. 

A fear of the harsh Icelandic nature

"I find the topic really interesting, " explains Sigurðsson who says that people still believe in some of the beings featured in the book. "There are people who believe in ghosts and in elves. there are still people working as psychic mediums who pass messages between the living and the dead. In folkloric texts a human soul is almost presented like a being separate from the person, and  I suppose that therefore the soul is still a being that lots of people believe in."

But why does he think people imagined all the wondrous creatures he's been painting? "In a way I think Icelanders were pretty terrified living in this country in older times. The elements and the weather conditions are so harsh. Imagine having to cross mountains in the pitch-dark winter. It's no wonder they imagined monsters living in that environment."The weirdest creatures in Sigurðssons opinion is the Tilberi, a milk fetcher conjured up by women by taking a man's rib from a churchyard. The creature was then nourished from sucking on a wart on the woman's inner thigh. 

Sigurðsson believes that belief in aliens has in a way replaced a belief in hidden people. "The stories of alien abduction and stories of being abducted by hidden people are sometimes almost identical. I guess the backdrop just became more scientific. " He adds that he admires the wondrous ideas behind all the creatures. " Its interesting when they are actually presented like something that actually exists. That's when the fun starts."

More information on Duldýrasafnið on the Karolina fund HERE. 

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