Exhibition: Art, the North, people and the state

Northern art exhibition, Rovaniemi “Flying Stories” Rovaniemi Art Museum, 4.11.2011-29.1.2012

We went to watch an exhibition by three painters on Arctic topics, from three different regions: Greenland, Lapland and the Russian North-West. It’s called “Flying Stories” and exhibits paintings by Tyko Vylko, Andreas Alariesto and Johan Markussen. According to the museum, the exhibition is targeted to attract children as well. This approach is reflected in the arrangements: first it might seem strange that the paintings of the three painters coming from different regions and periods are mixed.  The principle of the arrangement is topical: all paintings on bears hang together, the ones on mountains and the sea are together, the ones on sea-mammal hunting together, the one’s on reindeer together, and the ones on spirits. Then the pictures hang rather low on the walls. Thirdly, the paintings are mixed with other objects from the North, such as a Nenets Yagushka (women’s coat), Nenets children toys (dolls), a polar bear hide, a net with (plastic) fish on the wall. For an art exhibition, such a mixture seemed a bit strange for us, almost as if the art wouldn’t be enough to stand for itself. But for bringing children closer to the paintings, it may make sense.

Valentina Okotetto in her Yagushka, getting ready to travel

I was particularly interested in the work of Tyko Vylko. He was the inofficial president of Novaya Zemlya – that famous island in the Arctic ocean that divides the Kara and Barents Seas. The island was since 1954 a nuclear test field, and the Nenets population was relocated to the mainland. Tyko Vylko as their leader became famous in the early Soviet Union as a politican and painter. He got inspired by his northern home landscape and his many expeditions on Novaya Zemlya and other northern places. There is an excellent book (Sukhanovski 2008) in Russian about him, where also witnesses report about their meetings with him and describe him as very caring and warm leader. One key event in his life was the closure of Novaya Zemlya for permanent human inhabitation and its dedication as a nuclear test field of the Soviet Union. Sukhanovski (2008:204) describes it as Tyko Vylka being convinced by the “big people” in Moscow to abandon his home land for the sake of piece on the planet. Meaning that the testing of nuclear weapons help to prevent future hot wars. There is a lot still to say and study about Nenets relocation from Novaya Zemlya, and its aftermath. Hopefully the Arctic Centre’s Orhelia project can contribute to finding out more about the significance of this event for Nenets history and the relations of Nenets and the Soviet Union.

Florian Stammler