In June 1967 Gerti and Noortje Nooter and their three sons left for the East Greenland village of Diilerilaaq. As curator of the Museon Gerti wanted to find out locally how Greenland was changing. Increasingly, the people of Diilerilaaq were exchanging their harpoons for guns, their kayaks for motorboats and their traditional drums for guitars. The Nooter family lived with the Inuit for over a year. Gerti carried out research among the men and went out hunting with them. Noortje was the pivot of the house, hospitably receiving many Greenlanders and was taught by the women how to skin a seal and repair a kayak. During the ‘70s and ‘80s Nooter, by then curator of the Museum of Ethnology, revisited Greenland many times.


For his project ‘NomadsLife’ Jeroen visited the East Greenland village of Diilerilaaq in 2009. In his luggage he carried 42-year-old photographs of the same village. Although the photographs had been taken almost half a century earlier by Gerti and Noortje Nooter many villagers recognized themselves and family members. The photographs were a bridge between past and present. The people of Diilerilaaq told Jeroen Toirkens and journalist Petra Sjouwerman stories of the past based on historic photographic material of the Museum for Ethnography and the Museon. Reality recorded with the camera. There seemed to be a world of difference between then and now. Seemed to be, because some things will never change.


Thanks to the enthusiastic fieldwork of curator Gerti Nooter and his wife Noortje the Museon in The Hague and the National Museum of World Cultures in Leiden are in possession of a major collection of photographs (approx. 10.000 images, 1965-1984) from Greenland. The main objective of the Roots2Share project is to share this collection with the people of Greenland and the Netherlands. This is done in close consultation with the National Museum of Greenland in Nuuk and the Ammassalik Museum in Tasiilaq. The four museums joined forces and returned Nooter’s photograph collection to its source. Back to Greenland. As a result a number of activities and exhibitions have been organized both in Greenland and in the Netherlands.

Actually, the term ‘digital repatriation’ is a contradiction in terms since no photographic collection was physically repatriated to Greenland. The original negatives of Gerti Nooter’s photographs remain for the time being in storage at the Museon and the National Museum of World Cultures. Irrespective of the ‘ownership’ issue our Greenlandic partners do not have the capacity or storage facilities to preserve such vulnerable heritage. Thanks to digital technology we can now copy and distribute the originals as often as we wish. But to call this ‘repatriation’ is a step too far. Be that as it may, the essence of Roots2Share is to share Nooter’s photographs with the people of (East) Greenland. This is not a new development. Gerti brought back slides and copies of photographs to Diilerilaaq, as have his wife, sons, and daughter-in-law Cunera Buijs been doing since 1982.