The North has long worn the romanticized mantle of a sparsely populated frontier. To outsiders, it can seem unchanging and marginally inhabitable –– vast, cold, white, empty. Seen from the inside, however, the North is magnetic and multidimensional. Even as the frontier ideal fades into history, the North clings to its identity as a pristine place where people are independent in mind and spirit.
“True North: Contemporary Art of the Circumpolar North,” on view May 18 through Sept. 9 at the Anchorage Museum, portrays a North that is complex and in transition. Curated by Anchorage Museum Chief Curator Julie Decker, the exhibition features nearly 80 photographs, films and multi-media installations by 40 artists from Iceland, Scandinavia, Canada, Russia and the United States, including many Alaskans.
“These artists are attempting to define place –– not the romantic North of earlier generations but the next North, one that is connected, pivotal and conflicted,” said Julie Decker, Anchorage Museum chief curator.
Internationally recognized artists represented in “True North” include: Subhankar Banerjee, Seattle/New York City, United States; Olaf Otto Becker, Travemunde, Germany; Chris Jordan, Seattle, United States; Kevin Schmidt, Vancouver, Canada; and Katrin Sigurdardottir, Reykjavik, Iceland.
In the previous century, the art of the North was based primarily on the awe-inspiring landscape: The result was observational, calm and detached. Today’s Northern artists depict a new landscape, one that is altered by man, at risk, in transition, and in question.
Sarah Anne Johnson’s images feature Arctic landscapes with fantastical alterations where buildings grace the tops of glaciers. The Canadian artist celebrates the Arctic’s beauty while reminding us of its precarious future. Donald Weber’s images of the bleak built environment in Siberia indicate modern ideas for inhabiting the North are flawed, ensuring isolation rather than combating it.
Many contemporary Northern artists eschew landscapes altogether, focusing instead on how life in the North shapes and affects its inhabitants. Lisa Gray re-casts Mrs. Claus as a powerful female figure. Olof Nordal reinvents a folk tale about an abducted seal woman to comment on the sex slave trade in Iceland.
Indigenous artists Ken Lisbourne and Annie Pootoogook offer an insider perspective into daily village life — a world remote and beautiful, yet tainted by alcohol and violence. Brian Adams’ photographs document the effects of climate change on his friends and relatives in Kivalina, one of several Alaska seaside villages eroding into the sea.
In addition to several interactive multi-media installations, this exhibition features 10 hands-on activity stations for families including Arctic animal puzzles and a game featuring Alaska Native words that describe types of snow.
“True North” offers a compelling narrative for the increased relevancy of the North, particularly Northerners’ unique perspective on man’s relationship with the environment.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation; BP; Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation; Anchorage Museum Foundation; Nordstrom; and Alaska Airlines.
The Anchorage Museum is the largest museum in Alaska and one of the top 10 most visited attractions in the state. The museum’s mission is to share and connect Alaska with the world through art, history and science. Learn more at Anchorage Museum.