Unlike prints which were dealt with in a previous article, drawings and paintings have always been a part of the forms of expression in circumpolar Arctic. Before paper became available, wood, leather, bone, and various other materials were used, or simply drawing in snow or mud to create ephemeral works.
The Sami in Scandinavia have been in contact with their southern neighbours for centuries. As early as the 17th century, Sami poems were published, when Christian missionaries developed a written script for the Sami language. In 1673, the book Lapponia was published and partially translated into several languages, thus making it accessible to a German-speaking readership. With the intensification of trade, the emergence of tourism and the development of ethnology as a scientific discipline, the Sami documented their worlds on paper, mostly in the form of pencil and coloured pencil drawings.
In the 19th century, due to the European settlers and the associated trade, an early form of the tourist industry developed in Greenland. As a result, Inuit hunters illustrated their everyday lives and their worlds on paper, including, of course, the cultural contact, for example besides drawings of weapons and equipment, ships and settlements with European-style houses are also documented. Members of the de Quervain expedition of 1912 brought such drawings by Greenlander Jakob Danielsen (1888-1938) to Switzerland for the first time. His talent was recognised and promoted by the Danish colonial administrator Philip Rosendahl. This resulted in a body of more than 300 works (pencil and coloured pencil drawings and watercolours). The works in Switzerland were on view in 2020 in the National Museum in Zurich, as part of the “Greenland 1912” exhibition.
Development was similar in northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia. With the emergence of trade and administrative offices of the respective colonial powers, there was an increased exchange with the residents of the respective areas. In addition to evidence of the material culture, drawings and paintings were collected, some of which were commissioned by the new residents of the area. Only in rare cases were such works created for personal use.
With the introduction of the art of printing in Arctic Canada, preliminary drawings with information on the colours to be used were sometimes necessary. (Fig. 1)
In their art, many Arctic artists remain true to the traditions and themes of their societies of origin (Fig. 2); even if the artists don’t necessarily still live where they grew up, perhaps they have been educated at a university, work in a new media and/or for an international art market. Sometimes complete stories are told in one picture or complex relationships in life are explained (Fig. 3), or current challenges posed by climate change (Fig. 4) and their effects are depicted. The Kinngait (Cape Dorset)-based artist, Qavavau Manumie, shows (like Bill Nasogaluak in his sculptures) time and again in his drawings and prints the human dimension of climate change. In his drawing “Snowmobile Tracks at the Floe Edge” (Fig. 5) one can only see the abruptly ending tracks of a snowmobile. One suspects that it has fallen through the thin ice. The dangers of the changing ice are a common and very central topic for the hunters. Every year hunters disappear without a trace. There are repeated warnings about the dangers of hunting at the floe edge. Even experienced hunters can no longer rely on traditional knowledge.
Tradition and the political situation are frequent themes for Sami artists. Inga-Wiktoria Påve, who created a cycle of round pictures in 2020 that depict the Sami reindeer migration. (Fig. 6) The traditional life of the Sami is strongly threatened by the demarcation of today’s states, the push to make the Sami sedentary, deforestation, the mining industry and now also climate change. Reindeer ownership is reserved for the Sami. Due to the strong interventions to the environment by companies, but also by the Swedish state, the keeping and breeding reindeer are becoming more and more difficult.
Art reflects life. Drawings and painting are no exception. Sometimes artists show themselves in their works while painting and drawing. In 2008 Oviloo Tunnillie created a sculpture of a woman with a drawing in her hands (Fig. 7). There are no limits to creativity here either. With each generation of artists, the spectrum of topics and experiences that are portrayed in the works expands.
Martin Schultz, Museum Cerny / Translation by Martha Cerny