Brrr! The images of snowy terrains bring a shiver to the bones at this intriguing exhibition but the chill is tempered by the warmth of the spirit of the arctic peoples and the exhibits of snug fur coats, cosy mittens and warmly waterproof sealskin moccasins.
The Artic Circle is one of those regions of world which few of us will ever get to visit. We might have a shared folk memory of Eskimo igloos and husky dogs pulling sleds across the snowy Steppes. And yes, those elements are there but what we learn from the show is so much more.
I loved the examples of early artwork, especially by the ‘Dorset People’ who lived over 1000 years ago. Archaeologists believe they died out because of global warming, rising seas and the loss of their lands and livelihoods. But they created beautiful pieces such as the playful carvings showing adults with children on their shoulders.
How resourceful and clever the Arctic Peoples are. For example these contemporary sealskin gloves from Greenland have two thumbs so you can pull them onto either hand without wasting valuable time in the cold.
This basket, below, is made from salmon skin – apparently one would be given as a gift to a newly married young Yupit woman. They are waterproof and generally used for storing clothes. The skills for fishskin use are currently being revived as an art form throughout Alaska.
Above is a charming carved display depicting reindeer hoarders of Siberia. It’s carved from mammoth ivory and shows a woman giving birth in the conical tent surrounded by the family, fur traders, dogs and reindeer.
Hunting is a vital aspect of life in the Arctic. Clever strategies for trapping, spearing, harpooning and capturing animals and fish are illustrated in the displays.Rather than using the word hunting, the arctic peoples refer to it as ‘harvesting’. But I really liked the little ‘claw’ created to scrape on the snow and imitate the sound of a seal sunning itself on the ice. The familiar noise would lull the prey into sleepy view making it easier to catch.
There’s a great to enjoy and marvel over at this show. It’s on at the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery at the British Museum until 21 February 2021.