First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 82

REVIEWS REVIEWS ANCHORAGE Aiviq and Nanuq: Sea Horse and Sea Bear of the Arctic Anchorage Museum T WO I C O N I C A R C T I C ANIMALS are celebrated in Aiviq and Nanuq: Sea Horse and Sea Bear of the Arctic now on view at the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage, Alaska. The exhibition features film, photography, sculpture, paintings, and installations that pay homage to the walrus and the polar bear. Insightful text panels share information about how these animals are adapting and adjusting to climate change and a growing human presence in the Arctic. Walruses and polar bears have a large distribution across five circumpolar countries: Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States. Some Arctic stories relate that the sea animals— seals, walruses, and whales—were created from the fingers of the powerful goddess, Sedna, as she clung to the side of her father’s boat. In many Arctic communities, polar bears and sea animals are important resources for subsistence foods and raw materials, and they are often represented in material culture. For artists like Teevee Ningiukulu (Canadian Inuk), Bernard Katexac (Iñupiaq, 1922–1997), Melvin Olanna (Iñupiaq, 1941–1991), and Ronald Senungetuk (Iñupiaq), the walrus and polar bear are familiar subjects that these artists were raised alongside. Bernard Katexac’s Seasons of the Arctic III (1977) illustrates a King Inland spring hunt with men pursuing walruses from umiat (skin boats) and kayaks. Alvin Amason’s (Alutiiq [Sugpiaq]) large-scale painting Oh My Heart (2015) is a close-up portrait of a walrus in shades of purple, red, and blue with protruding sculpted wooden tusks. Olanna’s bronze polar bear sculpture depicts the animal pensively standing on its hind legs. These intimate images of polar bears and walruses produced by Indigenous inhabitants of the North contrast somewhat with representations that have been produced by visitors, who tend to present these animals as exotic and fearsome creatures. For example, John Webber’s Sea Horses (1778–80) and Charles Sidney Raleigh’s Chilly Observation (1889) depict the animals in harsh icy landscapes and emphasize their massive size and strength. More recent images of polar bears and walruses circulating in popular culture often focus on the animals’ plight, as climate change threatens their habitat. Polar bears and walruses spend the majority of their time in or near the ocean where food is readily available. These animals depend on the Arctic ice pack for breeding, hunting, and resting. Changes 80 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM to the environment, with warming oceans and thinning sea ice, create unpredictable habitat and challenges for these animals, who are simultaneously navigating how to adapt to a growing human presence in the Arctic through tourism, shipping, and industrial development. Some material in the exhibition reflects on the impact of these changes: an installation of Gísli Hilmarsson’s (Icelandic) polar bear soap figures makes a statement about global warming. Natural Resource by Nicholas and Jerrod Galanin (both Tlingit- Unangan) points to the impact of the oil industry on marine animals’ habitats. In Maureen Gruben’s (Inuvialuk) Message (2017), one of the most visually arresting pieces in the exhibition, brilliant white polar bear guard hairs are sewn together with a striking contrast of red cotton thread and arranged in the config- uration of SOS in Morse code. However, marine mammal products are only permitted across the Canadian/American border with an export permit, and the Anchorage Museum did not receive a permit in time for the exhibition opening. As a result, the Message presented in the exhibition is a high-definition photograph of the original piece. The absence of the work itself draws attention to interna- tional laws that govern the transportation of marine mammal materials across international borders. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Anchorage Museum has organized a series of public programs to provide opportunities for people to learn more about these Arctic animals from the