What are we?

Association of Unknown Shores (AUS) is an interdisciplinary social practice art project and platform for the research, production and commissioning of art and cultural works.

We explore the hidden nature of persistent material and remembered traces of the enforced cultural exchange between what we now know as the UK and Canada.

Formed in 2018, AUS works with the legacies of Martin Frobisher’s 16th-century attempt to colonise Nunavut. In 1577, Frobisher abducted three Inuit from opposite shores near Iqaluit. The English gave them the names Kalicho, Arnaq and Nutaaq and they were brought to Bristol where they spent 6 weeks. The man and woman died in November 1577 and were buried at St Stephen’s Church. Between 1576 and 1578, Frobisher brought thousands of tons of iron ore to England in the belief that it was gold. He also transported a narwhal tusk, which was gifted to Queen Elizabeth I for its magical properties. In Nunavut, on Qallunaat (Kodlunarn) Island, Frobisher left soured relations, conflict, English oak, an English stone house, bread, metal decorative objects and British names. Frobisher died in 1584 and his heart is buried at St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth.

Today, Bristol’s & Plymouth’s links to Nunavut are little recognised. There is an urgency to presencing on British shores the enormity of these events – to claim these histories and activate the unaccounted debts owed. Where Bristol & Plymouth have begun to acknowledge their roles in the colonisation & oppression of Indigenous people around the world & in the development of, and reliance on, slave-based economies, particularly through the Transatlantic slave trade – on ‘how the city continues to breathe coloniality’ – this earliest historical context in the Arctic and its contemporary legacies remain unspoken.

Our name references Elizabeth I’s term ‘meta incognita’ (the unknown limit), the name Frobisher imposed on the peninsula from which he stole people, land, resource. As a collective of disaporic artists we turn the unknown back on itself to critique the worn colonial ‘discovery’ trope.

AUS questions what it means to acknowledge and work with the histories that connect two shores. How might collaboration benefit transatlantic communities and relations through the necessary work of de-centering European arts and cultural practices? By exploring artistic and research processes of naming, mapping, and material and performative exchange we work with the trouble of coloniality while trying to remain mindful of the issues powerfully expressed by Sandra Inutiq and in  Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s National Strategy on Research.

We gratefully acknowledge the initial support in 2018-19 of University of Bristol (Brigstow Institute, International Strategic Fund and Faculty of Arts) and Canada-UK Foundation.