The British Museum teams up with Border Crossing’s ORIGINS festival’s latest offering to their series on climate change and indigenous people. Magnetic North: voices from the Indigenous Arctic sees art, technology, spoken word and music collide in an event dedicated to the culture of the indigenous people of the Arctic Circle. Here, artistic expression finds its groove in technology and shows us love of the planet, and of each other’s culture is a vital step in the race to save the environment. Only then can we begin to understand what we are fighting for.
Ishmael Angaaluuk Hope’s spoken word introduction describes indigenous people using the concept of Shukat Khu.oo, a Tlingit word meaning people at the very front and at the very back of society. Knowing our earth so intimately, as a result at being the back of society means, that climate change roots them at the very forefront. As people who rely, celebrate and cherish the land, they have borne the brunt of the rest of society’s actions. From Colonialism, to conservation, and now climate change, they are now the communities who are seeing the first destructive consequences that the ‘developed world’ has caused.
Tonight’s live curated film is not just an exploration of these issues, but a celebration of Indigenous culture in its traditional and contemporary forms. We’re treated to the traditional array of practices that help indigenous peoples connect with their surroundings and their heritage. We feel and hear Yoik, a music practice that allows you to evoke a place, person and animal and spiritually engage with it. We witness beguiling Greenlandic Mask Dancing from Elizabeth Hellmann Blind. Spoken word is performed by bastions of indigenous cultures, Laakkuluk Williamson-Banthory and Taqralik Partidge who champion contemporary Inuit culture. At the end of the performance we are taken back firmly into the present in conversation with environmental activist Dr. Mya-Rose Craig and Caitlyn Baikie, a pioneering Policy advisor for Indigenous people in the Arctic. But perhaps, the highlight of this, virtual artistic happening is Hishu’s singing and musings on indigenous life. Edited over the vast expanse of the arctic tundra, technology enables us to see the practice of ‘Yoik’ in action; we are given the chance to see, hear and feel Hivshu’ s voice spiritually resonating with the subject it is singing about, just as we would if we were around a fire with them.
Magnetic North: Voices from The Indigenous Arctic embodies Shukat Khu.oo throughout. We feel we are simultaneously looking forwards and backwards through their culture. And although it does feel like a jarring ad on in comparison to the celebration of culture that goes before, Dr. Craig’s conversation with Baike is vital. Their assertions that previous acts of conservation were colonialism are a shock. But we need to hear this- we need to know that trying to curb the work and life of indigenous people does just as much damage to the environment as burning fuels.
Indigenous art as it is presented here, is the writing on the wall. The indigenous people of the Arctic are the communities who are feeling the brunt of the ‘developed world’s’ disregard for environment first. It’s a must watch for any environmental activist, scientist or dare I say it, ordinary person of the people, who needs to be reminded of who and what we’re fighting for.
Reviewer: Melissa Jones
Reviewed: 3rd December 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★