Near the centre of Bern, more precisely on the Stadtbachstrasse 8a, there is a museum with a special focus on the Arctic, which is unique in Europe. The Museum Cerny. contemporary circumpolar art specialises in contemporary art from the Arctic regions and is dedicated to the issues of climate change, which are documented in numerous of the objects. Martha and Peter Cerny, founders and creative minds behind the museum, have shared their passion for the Arctic for more than 30 years. A collection grew out of this passion, which is now open to the public and which through international cooperations has gained recognition far beyond the borders of Switzerland.
It started with individual pieces, which allowed the interest to grow so much that in 1994 a collection of 127 Inuit works of art was acquired. Mainly from Nunavik (Arctic Quebec) in northeastern Canada, this collection includes not only sculptures but also prints and textiles, including 14 batiks that were created in 1973 as part of a workshop. The workshop was taught by an artist from Malaysia, Chinkok Tan. In December 2019, the Museum Cerny was able to receive additional information and packages of the colours that were used at that time and a tool called „canting“, with which wax is applied to the textile in preparation for the dyeing.
From the middle of March until September 2021, the batiks will be shown in their entirety for the first time since they were acquired more than 20 years ago in a special exhibition at Museum Cerny.
The acquisition of the first works was followed by extensive trips to Canada, during which further items were collected and the documentation of the collection continued. Contact was made with indigenous artists and knowledge carriers and the focus of the collection quickly expanded to other areas of the Arctic.
Contacts to Russia that have existed to this day were established as early as 1998, thanks to among others, Professor H.-G. Bandi, which resulted in a comprehensive collection from Chukotka. Other Siberian regions followed by being involved in organising and participating at international events and exhibitions. More recently, pieces from Greenland and Scandinavia were added to cover the entire Arctic Circle in the collection.
The first exhibition with the participation of Inuit artists Oviloo Tunnillie, Kananginak Pootoogook and Pakak Inuksuk took place in 2000 under the name “Cerny Inuit Collection”. Further exhibitions and collaborations nationally and internationally followed. In 2005, the first publication on the collection was published. The catalogue “Cerny Inuit Collection/Shared Arctic: an exhibition with works of art from the far north” was published in four languages on the occasion of the 190th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Russia in 2006.
Then several big steps were taken – the Cerny Inuit Collection officially became a museum in 2016 and through a cooperation with York University in Canada, the art conserver and archivist, Jessica Kotierk, who is herself an Inuk, came to Bern from Canada for several months and worked on putting the collection on a database. In 2020 the name was changed to „Museum Cerny. contemporary circumpolar art“ and a second publication with a focus on climate change was published – “Art as a Mirror of Science” („Kunst als Spiegel der Wissenschaft” in the German version). This book brought together an international team of authors whose articles demonstrate the link between art and science, how each other mirror one another’s findings on climate change, one with scientific data, the other with emotionally poignant artwork.
An expansion of the internet presence and an extension of the opening times were possible through the addition to the team, namely Ethnologist, Martin Schultz. The coming years should bring a further development of the relations to Scandinavia and Russia.
Two special exhibitions a year at the museum are dedicated to current issues. Currently (and until the 13th of March 2021), “Voices from the Arctic” is the first exhibition in Inuktitut, (Kinngait dialect) allowing those affected in the Canadian Arctic to speak for themselves and display the consequences of climate change as they experience it.
Martin Schultz, Museum Cerny
Link to the museum website: Museum Cerny contemporary circumpolar art