Hörður Torfa

Heimasíða Harðar Torfasonar

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Short biography

Hörður Torfason, born in Reykjavik in september 1945, is an Icelandic activist and artist who has been an influential figure in his country's political and cultural landscape for over five decades.
Trained as an actor at the drama school of the National Theater of Iceland he graduated in the spring of 1970. With his first album, which he recorded in the summer of 1970, he had a tremendous impact on Icelandic music and many took him as a model.
Already a national figure with concerts, records, theater productions, television appearences, radiowork and films,  on his repertory he was the first person in Iceland to publicly come out as a gay man in 1975.

This caused a great uproar and a big change in Torfason life. "I had a choice between living with constant threats and the degrading attitude towards gays at that time or do something about it. In those days gay men were considered criminals and child abusers. I was famous and that was power and I was protected but at the same time I knew of gays being beaten and mistreated. I chose to go against this violence and open a discussion on the issue. I was met with silence and complete ostracism. After the interview, all doors were closed to me, the threats increased and it was hopeless for me to get a job in Iceland. I was branded as THE GAY filth. I had a choice: flee the country and start a new life elsewhere or deal with the situation and start a counter-offensive based an informed discussion." Torfason said.
He moved to Copenhagen and he started visiting Iceland to deal with the situation. He was the inspiration and main founder of the campaign organisation Samtökin ´78 an organisation that were to change the attitudes of Icelanders in matters of human sexuality. 
From then on there was a also major change in his work when he started travelling the country as a human right activist with his songs and stories and theater work visiting all the villages in the country knowing his arrival caused a stir because every single Icelander knew where he was and what he looked like and that he was disgusting GAY criminal. Visibility was his intention and a big part of his human rights struggle. He stopped these annual trips in 2005 after the Icelandic Parliament passed a law that made all human beings equal before the law regardless of religion, origin, color and sexuality.
Torfason survived assassination attempt in the spring of 1982.
Hörður Torfason has worked independently since 1974 with his own record company and own theater. Torfason has put out 26 albums with his own songs and calls himself Artevist.
In 2008 his biography, Tabú, was published. It was built on conversations with the writer Ævar Örn Jósepsson.
He has also written few plays that have been staged.
Two books  with his lyrics.
A music book with 32 of his songs was published in 2006.
In 2018 Torfason wrote the book Bylting (Revolution) that was based on his diary from the five month he lead the Cutlery Revolution in 2008/09.
From 2009 until 2019 he was invited to 15 countries to give lectures on his work methods as an Artivist.
Torfason led influential demonstrations at the Ministry of Education in the summer of 2008 over the case of Paul Ramses.
He was also the founder, thinker, developer and spokesman for the organisation Raddir fólksins (“ People's voices” ) in 2008 following the 2008 Icelandic financial crises.
As a thinker in the Cutlery revolution and a human-rights campaigner, he has travelled widely around the world and lectured about his methods.
In a press- conference in 2009 he was asked when he had become an activist. He replied: "I am an artist not activist. - On second thought; I guess I could be called Artevist."

After being the only gay man in Icelandic society for several years and making many unsuccessful attempts to form an organization for gay rights, he realized that he had to use the director's technique to be successful. When that fact came to my notice, the work went like clockwork. That´s how the gay organisation of ´78 came about and all the other activities he has organized.
In autumn 2008, his biography Tabú (Taboo), based on conversations with the writer Ævar Örn Jósepsson, was published.
In October 2018, his book Bylting (Revolution) was published. The book is about is works as an Artevist. Three main chapters; 1. The beginning. Why and what made him an Artevist.-  2.) His diary from the Cutlery revolution in the winter 2008/09.  3.) Short chapter about his trips around the world. The book has been classified as educational material. There is also a chapter written by the well respected Icelandic administrative scientist, Sigurbjörg Sigurgeirsdóttir, who analyses the Cutlery revolution.


HORDUR TORFA the artist.


Hordur Torfa is the first and, in a way, the only icelandic troubadour. As a musician, he has been admired and respected since he released his first LP back in 1970, but, after he 'outed' himself in a famous magazine-interview, he has been hated and scornedby the petty moralists and pedantic hypocrites of all classes, which seem to thrive equally well in the cold Icelandic climate as they do anywhere else inthe world. The public reaction to this interview was so severe, that Hordur was forced to leave the country and live in exile for the next fifteen years. And so, Hordur is not only the first icelandic troubadour and the country's first prominent homosexual to raise his voice and claim the natural right of everyhuman being - to be what he is and live his life accordingly - he is also the first Icelander ever to be exiled for any reason other than violent crime or 'subversive politics'.  

This, however, was not a goal he had aimed at or even considered, when he gave the interview. The fact that he had to leave the country tells us more about his fellow countrymen than it does about him. But, in spite of his exile, in spite of his living in Copenhagen for a period of fifteen years, he had by no means given up on hisfellow Icelanders, nor had he surrendered to their demands. He was always determined to return someday and together with a small, but growing group of dedicated people, he worked hard at changing the public opinion and attidude towards homosexuals in his native country. He was  the chief initiator of the Samtok '78, an organisation whose main purpose was, and still is, to fightfor the rights of gays. This fight has been successful. Just how successful it has really been can perhaps best be demonstrated by the fact that today, twent yyears after that notorious interview, Hordur Torfa is again best known for what he became famous for in the first place: his music.  

He started out as just another guy, plucking at the strings of an old guitar, making up melodies to go with other people's lyrics. People started hearing him and about him here and there as early as the mid-sixties. In 1967, however, he enrolled as a student in the National Theatre's Drama school. As the students had to commit themselves not to appear on any stage outside the school, it wasn't until 1970 that Hordur could launch his career as an artist. But then he did just that, and with a vengeance. His first album, popularly known as the Blue album, was released that same year, and became an instant success. On this first album, Hordur was just as unconventional as he has been ever since. Except for backing vocals in a few songs, it was just Hordur himself, his voice accompanied by the gentle strings of his guitar. It doesn't sound very revolutionary, but, in those days, icelandic popular music consisted only of either Beatles/Stones-sound-alikes orfolk-music. Thousands upon thousands of Hördur's album were sold, and it has long been regarded as one of the very few classical gems in the history oficelandic popular music. Hordur's second album, like the first, contained his melodies to other people's lyrics. After that, the hitherto silent poet within him started to demand the same attention and status as the composer. Since then, Hordur has recorded 14 albums of original music. More often than not,Hordur has appeared alone and unaided on these records, but he has been known to give a few people a break now and then, and let them accompany him and his guitar with their various instruments. These exceptions, however, do in no way diminish his accomplishment or change his status as Iceland's first and best troubadour. 

In the last fewyears, quite a few people have been tempted to call themselves troubadours,and, what's worse, they have yielded to that temptation. In fact, they have been so many, and, to say the least, so variously talented, that the nestor of Icelandic troubadours has become loth to appear under that description and prefers to call himself a singing poet. While most of the other so-called troubadours go from pub to pub, maltreating Donovan and Dylan and raping Baezto audiences in an advanced state of alcoholic deafness, Hordur prefers somewhere nice and quiet, where he can sing his songs with his customary sincerity and abandon to a sober and listening audience. The audience would be missing a lot though, if they would settle for listening only. Hordur is an allround performer, and Hordur the actor is never far away when Hordur, the singer, is on the stage. It can be difficult at times, to decide whether one is attending a concert or a cabaret, a cabaret or a musical, a musical or a play.The fact that Hordur, the poet, is always present as well, adds further to the tension which is always to be felt between the actor and the singer. And so, ifit weren't for the fourth guy, Hordur, the director, who usually butts in just as things start to get a little rough up there on the stage, we'd probably bein trouble. In spite of his living in Denmark for fifteen years, Hordur has directed about 50 plays and shows all around the country, with various drama-clubs and amateur art societies. He came home every autumn, threw his annual concert in Reykjavik in the first week of september, spent a few weeks somewhere or other out there in the great wilds where people fish and grow potatoes and babies, and didn't disappear again until some of them had performed some play or another for the rest of them. He even wrote some of these plays himself, and rewrote a number of others. In addition to all this, Hordur was the first icelandic popular musician to go touring around the country, bringing his music to the people living in the small fishing villages and other rural communities, who were not used to, but quite happy to welcome visitors from the"big city" - and many musicians have followed his good example since.He has thrown many concerts abroad, mostly in Scandinavia, he is engaged in the fight against AIDS and for it's victims, and he's appeared at innumerable charity concerts. 

And then - afterfighting for human - and civil - rights on behalf of the gay community in Iceland for twenty years, after fifteen years in exile in Denmark, after 14 albums, countless concerts in Iceland and abroad, after participating invarious ways in a number of plays, films, radio and television programs - after all this, it finally happened. Hordur was awarded his first ever prize in his career, a career covering more than a quarter of a century. Of course, this happened abroad. In Stockholm, on june 16th, 1995, TUPILAK - a culturalorganisation of the gay community in Scandinavia- honoured him with the Thorshammer-award with great ceremony. This is a human-rights prize, annually awarded to someone for outstanding dedication to and relentless fight for the cause of human rights for gays. Last december, Samtok '78, the icelandicgay-organisation which Hordur initiated some 18 years ago, followed suit and honoured him - and the first chairman of the organisation - with the Liberty-award for his part in the fight for equal rights for gay people in Iceland. As a musician, Hordur still enjoys the same respect as before. And in the 21 years since Hordur gave his interview, things have certainly changed for the better as regards the public attitude towards gays. Their legal status has improved, too. There is still a long way to go, though, and those who hate,fear and scorn gays are still far too numerous in Iceland as well as in most other countries. Hordur knows this as well as - or perhaps better than - anyone else, and has by no means given up the fight. He keeps on singing, keeps on showing us the way, pointing out his own faults as well as ours, laughing at us- but mostly with us - and generally telling us what is what. He is not a moralist though, and self-righteousness has never been one of his faults. 

He's got nothing to hide, but a lot to say, and he does just that, regardless of the consequences it can have for him as a private person. "If I had let it be, if I had bought myself a white shirt and a tie and melted away without a word or a whimper, I would have been betraying myself," said Hördur, when he was asked if he had never regretted his coming out these twenty odd years ago. So,what we have here, is not someone I - or anyone else for that matter can describe in a few words on a home page. But, if there is one single thing I canpositively state about a man as active, complex and multitalented as HordurTorfa is, it's this: He never tries to appear to be anything else than he is. Except on stage, of course, where he naturally tries to appear as someone else...Oh, well, maybe that single thing I can positively claim about the guy doesn't exist after all. But then, is there a single thing about anyone or anything we can positively state? Descartes maintaines that there is, and so does a number of philosophers, but others have been known to deny it. I mean,if...oh, what the hell.

Aevar Orn Josepsson

Mosfellsbæ January 1996

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Curriculum vitae

Hörður Torfa www.hordurtorfa.com
1966-70 | Graduated as Actor from The National Theatre of Iceland, School of Acting.

1977 | Morðsaga / Actor and Assistant Director
1973 | Paragraph 65 / Actor

1970 – 1990  | Author of many radioprograms
1998-06 | Conductor of the weekly radio program“The Song Sowers” on RÚV 1 Icelandic main radio station

1970-73 | Actor in the National Theatre of Iceland
Acted in many different productions.

1971-01 | Theatre Director
Directed 47 different productions for both amateur and professional theatre. Wrote the script for 5 plays and the soundtrack for 10 theater´s plays.

1970- | Considered to be Icelands first Troubadour. Performed in countless solo concerts in Iceland and elsewhere and has composed and written and produced 24 albums.
2006 | Book of Songs
1995 | YRK Poems´ collection

Human Rights Activist:
1975. Steps forwards as the first Gay man in Iceland and starts his Human rights activism

1978| Founder of the Icelandic Gay Organization Samtökin 78.

2008/09. Leader of the social movement that emerged in Iceland during the autumn of 2008. Consequently Hörður has been invited to join different meetings, conferences, manifestations, lectures and talks on the topic of Human Rights in Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Italy, Slovakia and Czech republic. 

2008| Asylum Seeker Activist. Worked successfully for the recognition of Paul Ramses´ right to live in Iceland. 


2010 | Siðmennt Award, Icelandic Humanists
For outstanding contribution in the human right field
2009 | The Tupilak, Swedish Gay Organization
For outstanding contribution in the gay right field
2008 | Man of the Year, Rás 2 Icelandic Radio Broadcast
For outstanding contribution in the human right field
2008 | Community Prize, Fréttablaðsins Newspaper
For his work in the fight against prejudice
2005 | Nordic Songwriter Union
For his outstanding career
2003 | Icelandic Social Democratic Party
For his courage, bravery and honesty in human right fight
1998 | Golden Needle, Icelandic Gay Organization Samtökin 78
For his life achievement
1995 | Freedom Prize, Icelandic Gay Organization Samtökin 78
For his courage, bravery and honesty in human right fight
1995 | Tupilak, Swedish Gay Organization
For his pioneer work and bravery

How a Gay Rights Maverick Helped Topple Iceland’s Govt

Posted by  | 11 hours ago | Nordic News


Active CitizensCivil SocietyEconomy TradeEuropeFinancial CrisisHeadlinesHuman Rights,LGBTQ

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2012 (IPS) - By the time the political climate in Iceland was ripe for the Cutlery Revolution, Hörður Torfason was already well practiced at stirring things up.


Interview 2012. 

Hörður Torfason. Iceland’s new constitution will be the “battle of the winter to come”, he says. Credit: Courtesy of Hörður Torfason

“I’ve been doing this all my life,” he told IPS in an interview.

In 1975, Torfason stepped forward as the first openly gay man in Iceland, to much public discontent. After escaping an attempt on his life, Torfason moved to Copenhagen where he lived in exile for many years. However, he continued to fight for gay rights from abroad using his art to spread the message.

“The role of the artist, to me, is to defy the misuse of power in our society, and I’ve been doing that all my life,” said Torfason.

Based out of Copenhagen, he returned to Iceland every year, touring and giving concerts in support of gay rights, and he founded the Icelandic Gay Organisation Samtökin 78 in 1978. Gradually, public sentiment changed and he was able to move back to Iceland in 1991, where he has lived ever since.

“It takes years to change a society, but also it has brought forward a lot of people who are quite capable, intelligent people,” said Torfason.

Today, gay people in Iceland enjoy equal rights.

In July 2008, he found himself on the activist stage again fighting for the rights of Paul Oudor Ramses, a young man from Kenya who was denied political asylum in Iceland along with his wife and son. With the aid of Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Torfason protested the parliament’s decision and in late August, Ramses was granted the asylum he had sought. Now he and his family are Icelandic citizens.

“If we give up and leave it to the politicians, nothing will change,” said Torfason.

The act that Torfason is most acknowledged for is perhaps leading Iceland’s Cutlery Revolution. On Oct. 11, 2008, only five days after the financial crash, Hörður Torfason planted himself outside the parliament building in Reykjavik and started putting questions to the people who passed by.

Every day for a week he stood in the same spot and asked the people two questions. The first, do you know what has happened in this country? The second, do you have any ideas about what we can do about it?

“Everybody was in shock. The people were not very clear on what was happening,” said Torfason.

By gauging opinion on the streets, Torfason devised three demands which reflected the people’s immediate wishes: the government should resign, the board of the financial supervisorial authority should resign, and the board of the national bank should resign.

“Always, I read out the three demands and I asked people, ‘Is this what you want?’ and the people said ‘Yes,’ by thousands and thousands,” said Torfason.

He began to organise protests, which were held at the same time every week outside the parliament building.

“I asked peopled to help me, and especially I concentrated on getting in contact with young people who are clever with the internet to spread the message, and that succeeded,” said Torfason.

Just after Christmas, Torfason organised everyone to surround the parliament building on the day the MPs came back from holidays.

“I was expecting, I don’t know, 3,000. It turned out to be something we had never, never seen before. There were thousands and thousands and thousands, day after day.”

The protest continued for five days, with the largest turnout on the last day. The day after that, the first minister resigned, and on Monday, the government resigned, taking with it the board of the financial supervisory authority. In another month, the board of the national bank would resign, meeting the third and final demand of the protestors.

“To me and I think most people I talk to, if we hadn’t had the Cutlery Revolution, the far right-wing party would still be in power,” he observed.

The latest development has been a constitution written by the people of Iceland themselves. Any Icelandic citizen could run to be considered for a position at the drafting table. Furthermore, everyone in the country could monitor the writing of the new constitution and submit suggestions via Facebook and Twitter. A referendum to ratify the constitution will be held Oct. 10.

“Things will not change unless we get a new constitution,” Tolfason said. “It’s still going to be the battle of the winter to come, I think.”

Torfason has received numerous awards for his enduring efforts as a human rights activist, including The Tupilak, from the Swedish Gay Organisation for outstanding contribution in the gay rights field in 1995 and 2009, and the Icelandic Social Democratic Party for his courage, bravery and honesty in human right struggles in 2003.

While securing donations for part of his trips and projects, much funding for Torfason’s activism comes from his own pocket, and demands most of his time and attention.

“My aim is not to go into politics or make money out of it… This is a kind of duty on the part of my society. I’m ready to do the work.”

Article source: http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/how-a-gay-rights-maverick-helped-topple-icelands-govt/