'Arctic: Culture and Climate' is a seriously cool trip into the world's frozen north

Umiaq and north wind during spring whaling by Kiliii Yuyan
Umiaq and north wind during spring whaling by Kiliii Yuyan

Time Out says

Ever notice how, when you look at a map of the world, Europe is slap bang in the middle? It’s not an accident. The first global maps were designed by Europeans, and put Europe in the centre, because Europe was the star that the rest of the world revolved around. Not just that, but that ‘Mercator’ map, as the most popular world map is known, is skewed – it shrinks Africa and South America, it enlarges America and Europe. 

So walking into this show about the culture and history of the arctic is a bit of a shock, because you’re immediately slapped around the face with a map from a totally different perspective. The north. The very, very north. It’s the world from the top down, and you suddenly and immediately realise that you’ve been looking at the map in the same, European, way forever, and it has totally ignored other cultures. 

So this is a chance to learn about the Arctic, and the British Museum has done a great job with it. The show is beautifully laid out, with cool blue and white lighting throughout. There’s a stunning range of objects, from the practical (anoraks, baby-carrying hoodies, spears), to the ceremonial (shaman masks, colourful, beaded costumes), and the artistic (beautiful walrus ivory carvings, drawings of hunts and felt embroidery). 

And it makes you realise how big the Arctic is, with the colours of Finland’s Sami, the carvings of Alaska’s Inupiat, the tools of Greenland's Inuit, and objects from Russia and Canada. 

The whole exhibition feels like an exercise in re-centring, in shifting your perspective and realising how forcefully we’ve been fed the idea of European and American dominance. The show is saying, hey, there’s a whole world up north that for too long we’ve treated like it doesn’t exist.

Climate change is obviously at the heart of the show, and the BM goes hard on making you realise just how badly our actions are affecting the people of the Arctic. That’s why shifting your perspective is so important: because we really aren’t the only ones that matter, and if we don’t start acting soon, all this beauty could be lost forever.



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