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Exhibition Review – Arctic: culture and climate at the British Museum from 22 Oct 2020 to 21 Feb 2021

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The British Museum presents the first major exhibition on the history of the Arctic and its indigenous peoples, through the lens of climate change and weather. The Arctic has been home to a number of communities for nearly 30,000 years, and the exhibition explores some of the cultures that have lived in one of the most dramatic environments on earth.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

With climate change transforming the Arctic at the fastest rate in human history. The exhibition entitled Arctic: culture and climate looks at the circumpolar region through the eyes of contemporary Arctic communities, revealing how Arctic peoples have adapted to climate change in the past and addresses the present crisis.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The exhibition brings together the largest and most diverse circumpolar collection ever displayed in the UK, including objects from the British Museum’s Arctic collection and international lenders and commissions, this exhibition reveals artistic expression and ecological knowledge, from the past right up to the present day.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Exhibits include rare 28,000 year old archaeological finds excavated from the thawing ground in Siberia, unique tools and clothing adapted for survival, artworks reflecting the respectful relationship between Arctic people and the natural world and photography of contemporary daily life.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The Arctic Circle is the most northern region in the world which covers 4% of the Earth. It is home to 4 million people including 400,000 indigenous peoples belonging to one or more of 40 different ethnic groups with distinct languages and dialects. Most of the Arctic’s indigenous inhabitants rely on hunting, fishing and reindeer herding. These subsistence resources are supplemented by employment in industries such as government infrastructures, energy, commercial fishing and tourism. Arctic peoples have traded and engaged across the Circumpolar North for millennia. From Russia, Greenland, Canada and the USA to the Scandinavian nations, the peoples of the region have thrived within this ever-changing landscape.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The exhibition features objects from across the circumpolar region, including an 8-piece Igloolik winter costume made of caribou (wild reindeer) fur. Animals provides food for the community as well as clothing, all available natural materials are put to use.

Other highlights include a delicate and unique household bag from western Alaska, crafted from tanned salmon skin, a Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal and caribou bone and pieces of driftwood which was traded to Sir John Ross on his 1818 expedition, marking the first encounter between Inughuit and Europeans.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Arctic peoples’ responses to the establishment of colonial governments and state-sponsored religions in the Arctic will feature, including a bronze carved Evenki spirit mask that was made from a 17th century Russian Orthodox icon.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Many Arctic peoples are transforming traditional heritage to meet contemporary needs and the exhibition explores ritual practices to commercial artwork inspired by their storytelling and material traditions.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Stunning contemporary photography of the Arctic landscape provides a background to a wide range of of new artworks commissioned for the exhibition. These include a limestone Inuksuk, an iconic Arctic monument of stacked stones used to mark productive harvesting locations or to assist in navigation, built by Piita Irniq, from the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, Canada.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

A new installation from the art collective Embassy of Imagination will present traditional clothing made from Japanese paper and printmaking by Inuit youth in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) and Puvirnitug, Nunavut, Canada.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

This fascinating exhibition provides a timely insight into an often neglected part of the world. The stories of the various communities provide evidence of the remarkable abilities of communities to deal with different kinds of change and developing strategies to make best use of change. Whilst climate change is often discussed in an abstract way and from little personal knowledge, we might be better to listen to communities that have survived the disruptive effects of social and environmental change and created thriving cultures.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the British Museum website here

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