An artistic celebration of life as an immigrant

23.01.2021 - 10:12
An artistic celebration of life as an immigrant
American-Faroese artist portrays life as an immigrant in the Faroes through wood carvings depicted on postage stamps
American-born sculptor Joel Cole first visited the Faroes in 1986. He has been a Faroese resident since 2011

A new stamp collection, issued next month, portrays the process that many people go through when emigrating to a new country.

“Postage stamps travel far and wide, just like immigrants. So in a way, stamps are paper immigrants,” says sculptor Joel Cole.

Joel has been tasked with creating six wood carvings which will feature in a collection of stamps themed on the history of immigrants in the Faroe Islands.

Seeking to portray the experience of relocating to another country, both as a universal phenomenon and as a personal adventure, Joel has drawn inspiration from his own experiences as an immigrant in the Faroes as well as from interviews with more than 50 fellow immigrants.

“These interviews taught me some wonderful things – especially that many of the challenges I have faced in moving to the Faroe Islands, which I thought no-one else experienced, are the exact same ones that most other immigrants have gone through. That was a priceless insight for me.”


The stamp collection is titled ‘Gróðursettur’ (planted), which Joel translates as ‘transplanted’.

“Relocating from one part of the world to another is easily comparable to moving a plant from one piece of soil to another,” he explains.

“You pull up the plant with its root and transplant it in another location. The plant may thrive in its new location or it may not. Maybe it dies or maybe it just needs some time to settle in its new home and blossom into an entirely new identity.”

It is metaphors such as this one that form the basis of Joel’s wood carvings.

Six works of art

The six wood carvings depicted on the new stamps symbolise a chronological account of the process of leaving one’s homeland and relocating to a new country.

Torn – “This sculpture represents the inevitable feeling of having one foot firmly planted in your home country while trying to settle into your new country.”


Kom og brýn meg (Hone me) – “This one portrays the complex interplay that arises when different cultures rub up against each other.”

Casual alien – “Casual alien is actually a plant species, and that fascinated me because it is a species which can flourish temporarily in a foreign environment but does not form lasting populations. I like this title because it encapsulates the delicate nature of immigration: many people try to put down roots in a new location – it works for some but not for others.”

In my father’s footsteps – “This one is about following convention. It is often a good idea to follow old conventions but sometimes it is good to look for new ways and new solutions.”

Floral fireworks – “This represents the hope that each individual immigrant can, in a positive way, influence – or even make a splash – in his or her new culture.”

Full circle – “Full circle seeks to portray metaphorically, in terms of identity, that when you embark on a journey, you always end up where you started. For most of us, this circle is rarely perfect, but eventually we all experience a full circle feeling.”


Faroese American celebrating life through art

Born and bred in Minnesota, U.S., Joel first visited the Faroe Islands as an exchange student in 1986. Since then, he visited the country every year until 2011 when he became a Faroese resident.

He lives in Saltnes, Eysturoy, with his Faroese wife and their five children.

“To me, personally, this collection symbolises a celebration of how great life can be as an immigrant in the Faroe Islands,” he says.

The stamp collection will be available via from 19 February.


Read and listen to an interview in Faroese with Joel here

Translated by

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