Arctic: Culture and Climate review – visions of a vanishing world | Exhibitions | The Guardian
British Museum, London
Indigenous art, ornate tools and captivating photography bring the past and threatened present of a rich region alive
Sun 25 Oct 2020 09.00 GMT
There is a vision, in this magnificent show, of the strange hinterland where Arctic ice melts into the snow-covered ocean. There is no obvious distinction, indeed the water’s edge is all but invisible. What you see is a series of dark boats drawn on sledges across a white plane dotted with walruses and long-legged birds. All the images are inky black, exquisitely carved into the tusk of one such walrus, caught on exactly this kind of boat. Its ivory is beautifully used to stand in for the all-encompassing Arctic whiteout.
Carved around 1900 by a celebrated Iñupiat artist known as Happy Jack, this is not just a graceful engraving-cum-sculpture. It shows life as it was lived on Alaska’s freezing Seward Peninsula, long lines of huskies pulling kayaks, tents and vessels across the gliding ice. Children learned from these images, elders discussed them and now here we are in the future looking back at this body of knowledge carved into the tusk of a long-dead walrus that once swam in those dark seas. Man and beast, life and art: all are fused in this object.