Sassuma Arnaa was performed by Jessie Kleeman at the North Atlantic Pavilion, part of City States, Liverpool Biennial 2012. Vocal by Iben Mondrup and sound by Niels Lyngsø. September 14 2012.
Part of Inuit mythical canon the story of the Mother of the Sea is told throughout the Arctic. Though variations exist at the tale's heart lies the story of a young woman taken out to sea only to be betrayed by her family and cast to the bottom of the ocean where she now lies presiding over her domain.
Common in each version is her brutal demise. Whether known as Sedna, Arnaqquassaaq, Nuliajuk or Satsuma Arnaa she always meets her watery fate clinging to the side of her father's fishing boat only to have him sever her fingers one by one to save his own life.
Legend has it that each of her severed fingers became one of the great sea mammals that sustain inuit life, with her now ruling over them all from ocean floor. A vengeful goddess she commands the creatures that are the very lifeblood of all Inuit people, demanding that hunters pray to her to release her creatures from the ocean depths and seeing them make offerings to placate her fiery temper.
Even when customs are followed and taboos observed sometimes the hunt may continually fail. When this happens a shaman must transform themselves into a fish to visit Sassuma Arnaa, soothing her anger by cleaning and braiding her hair - something she cannot do herself having had her hands so violently and horribly disfigured.
Accompanying her installation Jessie Kleeman performed live at the launch of the North Atlantic Pavilion seeking to explore the spirt of Sassuma Arnaa allowing her body to become both shamanic vessel and an embodiment of the Mother of the Sea. For her the performance is not narrative driven, that exists elsewhere, it is rather an attempt to connect with archaic and deep-seated notions of space, place, community and nature that seem so central to the human condition yet increasingly illusive in their expression and reverence.
To find out more about Jessie's work in the exhibition, her practice and the other Nordic Artists exhibiting see: North Atlantic Pavilion - Curated Place or curatedplace.com.