NewArctic points our attention to people in the Arctic. 25.05 - 20.08.2021

In NewArctic, academics from Sápmi and many other places with established interests in the Arctic, come together to experiment with new ways of exploring the region. The resulting exhibition is for you to see, hear, feel and smell. The exhibition is collaborative in its involvement with museums and local people in many Arctic and circumpolar areas of the world: Kárášjohka/Karasjok, Guovdageaidnu, Baikal, Mittimatalik and Snåase.

The Arctic is a place where life takes place according to different premises. People have lived here for thousands of years. The footprint of these people in the Arctic landscape, however, has been hard to notice. The absence of recognisable signs of human domestication has caused the Arctic to be understood as an untamed wilderness, as terra nullius, open and available for appropriation and exploitation. In the era of European nation building, the Arctic became the perfect playground for white male explorers. People who already lived there were colonised and classified as primitive. The exhibition shows the complexity of the knowledge and skills necessary to survive in the Arctic, while stressing the need to reflect upon the inhabited land, rather than evoking a northern void. Museums have been significant contributors to the naturalisation of Arctic colonisation, providing a space in which local people in have often been reduced to ‘Man: The Hunter’.

NewArctic aims to explore new ways of exhibiting the Arctic to provide a better view of the people who have lived there. To enable this, the NewArctic exhibition is put into circulation, to explore together with museums and locals what the Arctic can be. The first NewArctic exhibition (Cultural History Museum, May 2016) was made with collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. In this first incarnation, the exhibition included film and photographs from seal hunting in Baikal, dried reindeer stomachs and additional film with instructions on how this kind of drying is done. We combined one hundred year-old seal-fur clothing, collected by Roald Amundsen from the North West Passage, with film on the making of contemporary seal-skin clothing from Mittimatalik, Nunavut. Since the exhibition started to travel, some elements have disappeared, while others have remained. Our ambition is that every museum that takes on the exhibition will contribute to it. At Saemien Sijte, Snåase (April 2017), local root basketry was included, along with scenes from the vulnerable Southern Sami reindeer pastoralism, photographed by Aina Bye. From Sámi Allaskuvla, the exhibition gained other elements, including a filmatic exploration of lake fishing and lake care, in Liv Østmo’s film on jávredikšun, as well as a focus on traditions people fear are about to disappear, such as lake fishing and duck hunting, traditions threatened by Norwegian natural resource management restrictions.



Theme 1. Explorers and the Arctic wilderness

Maps make landscapes. They represent charters of action for how land should be used. Map legend foreground particular landscape narratives while other remain hidden. In the Arctic, maps have made the landscape available as wilderness, revealing available natural resources, while simultaneously emptying the landscape for its local content. In Sápmi, this landscape is known, used and talked about as ‘meahcci’. Meahcci is not one landscape but describes many kinds of use, connecting land and peoples, animals and plants. The term describes movement and use and is connected with what the land may offer. Embedded in meahcci are complex networks of users’ rights associated with particular places and resources. In this landscape, humans know how to encounter key species at different seasons and places with a kind of predictability, thereby sustaining their way of life. Such predictability can only be ensured if land and animals are treated with respect; knowing and caring for the landscape and what is in it.

Theme 2. Relations between humans, landscapes and animals

In Sápmi and amongst other Arctic and Circumpolar people, uses of natural resources are founded upon respect. Peoples’ presence involves observation and awareness of landscape, animals and relations between species, not based upon control. Here, life consists of relationships characterised by mutualism and trust, with an element of uncertainty, between people and between people and animals. Nature is not a passive resource to be exploited, but an active constituent of lives that transcend rigid boundaries between humans and non-humans, or between culture and nature. Fluidity and reciprocity characterise relationships between people and animals, but also between men and women, kin and neighbours.

Theme 3. Weather and Wind, The Sound of the Arctic

In the Arctic, weather and wind are part of the landscape and central agents in peoples’ lives. The sound of the Arctic can be intrusive or almost absent: the ice breaking up in the spring, many kinds of water; the annual flood, rain against the window, many kinds of wind, storms, breeze, the sound of footsteps on snow, or in marshland or the dry tundra, bird singing, the mosquitos in the summer, or its absence if it is stopped by the wind. Sound is explored in the exhibition in Margrethe Pettersen’s sound installation, Levende Land Under som Over (Living Land Under as Above).

Theme 4. Animals as resource. Making animals into food, clothing and tools

In the Arctic respect involves an effort to use everything in an animal that is slaughtered. In this regard, women’s work is often overlooked, also in museum exhibitions. In the Arctic, the life of an animal does not stop with its death. Women make animals into food and clothing. These still remain necessary for Arctic survival. Women’s work includes not only large animal breeds, but a large diversity of interspecies relations, including cooperation with what is inside the animal such as bone, sinew and intestines, but also microbes, bacteria and mould. Traditional crafts also depend upon wind and weather; in other words, even the landscape must cooperate for productions to be successful. In this exhibition, Uiguaqtuq (The Hidden Stitch) made by the Mittimatalik Arnait Miqsuqtuit Collective is one of the elements that illustrates this.

Theme 5. Tools and fur. Arctic technological precision

Survival in the Arctic was made possible by highly specialised technology and complex knowledge, not only of the landscape and the animals in it, but also of how all the animals could be made use of. Fur clothes in the Arctic are made with an enormous variety of sophisticated tools and with fur and animal parts from a number of species such as reindeer, seal, deer, mink, bear, wolf, beaver, muskrat, fox, but also for example guillemot or salmon. Animal parts are chosen for their specialised characteristics, such as warmth, flexibility, circulation of air, wind and water proofness. Both in clothes and tools aesthetic elements are included. Knowledge of technology, of the uses of clothes, of the affordances of animals and furs provides special adaptations that even today are better than everything else.

Theme 6. Scientific and museal colonisation

The technologies, skills and materials necessary to survive in the Arctic as well as the sophistication and creativity of Arctic peoples cannot be made visible by a few artefacts in vitrines. But perhaps the innovation can be made visible by the total amount of photographed Arctic artefacts in the Cultural History Museum collection. This archive of Arctic artefacts further reminds the audience that museums have been active participants in western Arctic adventures.  From early on even The Cultural History Museum in Oslo has furthered the Euro-American Arctic dream by making use of Amundsen’s collections to communicate an Arctic on the premises of the colonisers.

Theme 7. Control over nature and its resources

The Arctic provides us with a richer understanding of the history of mankind. We learn that survival does not always require control and that food production is not necessarily built on dominance and individual property rights. In such ways, the Arctic invites us to reconsider the assumption that nature and society are separate. Today Sámi continuously struggle with the consequences of such Western worldviews, imposed as Norwegian natural resource management. There is real fear that Sámi traditions, like inland lake fishing or duck hunting, are disappearing. A better understanding of lifeways in the Arctic is necessary if co-management of natural resource is to be accomplished.

Thank you

NewArctic would like to thank Sámi Allaskuvla. This project was undertaken in collaboration with – In Karasjok; Anne May Olli, Berit Åse Johnsen, Jelena Porsanger, Margrethe Vars, Terje Henriksen, Gunnar Grønvold, Bror Ivar Salamonsen. In Kautokeino; Liv Østmo, Gunvor Guttorm, Johan Aslak Hætta, Solveig Joks. Ánna-Katri Helander, Ellen Triumf, Jon Andreas Utsi, Inga Anne Maret Juuso, Inger-Marie Oskal. At CAS; Marianne Lien, Natasha Fijn, Heather Swanson, Britt Kramvig, Anja Somby, Rachel Gomez, Margrethe Iren Pettersen, Karen Elle Gaup, Leif Pareli, and Maria Kartveit. At Snåsa; Lisa Dunfjeld, Birgitta Fossum, Susanne Lyngman, and Nanni Mari Westerfjeld.

We would also like to thank Rob Losey and his Baikal collaborators, Mittimatalik Arnait Miqsuqtuit Collective, Liv Østmo and Sonar Film for allowing the use of their films. The sound installation is called ’Living land Under as Above’ by Margrethe Pettersen, with music by Christian Hollingsæter. Pictures in the exhibition from reindeer herding are by photographer Aina Bye. Photos of the roots basketry are by Duedtieinstituhtta, Åarjel Saemien Dajve and from Saemien Sijte’s photo archive. Seal skin photos are by Nancy Wachowich. Finally, this exhibition was exquisitely designed by Mathilde Enger Stabekk and Åsmund Steinsholm.


The exhibition is made with support from Cultural History Museum, UIO, Centre for Advanced Studies at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Johannes Falkenberg’s Foundation, and Mobilizing Indigenous Cultural Heritage (York University, Canada).