Rumors of Arctic Belonging
The Arctic is changing radically. In his impressive series, Kiliii Yuyan offers insight into the fascinating imagery of the North.
Kiliii Yuyan is an artist based in Seattle, but he can be found across the circumpolar Arctic much of the year.
Towering icebergs, doomed expeditions in tall ships, desolate landscapes with naught but howling wind– this was the vast Arctic from the paintings of European explorers in the 19th century. That romance carries on in the 21st century, even as the ice vanishes and increasing numbers of people experience the North in person.
When the future has its way with the North, it will leave a radically altered land. The sea ice and its denizens will have vanished. Contemporary Inuit will be living vastly different lifestyles than that of their ancestors. Future generations will look back to remember a land little understood by outsiders. Will the imaginations of foreigners paint the sole history of an Arctic with ice and snow? What are the memories of the 3 million Greenlandic Kalallit, Alaskan Iñupiat, and European Samí who call the Arctic their home?
Despite my ancestry as a Native Siberian, I experience the Arctic both as an insider and an outsider. My years there have left me with a vision of a multi-chromatic Far North. This is a land blued with ancient ice, deepened by blood, and radiant under the northern lights. My Arctic nostalgia is not for sailing ships, but for skinboats. My strongest memories are intimate ones– the smell of fermented seal oil, the sting of ice crystals on snowmobile rides, and the background din of howling Greenlandic huskies.
A future North awaits– not cold and unchanging, but living, dying and being reborn. Everyday memories of the Arctic will pass forward as they always have, kept by its Indigenous peoples and hidden in plain sight.
Larry Lucas Kaleak listens to the sounds of passing whales and bearded seals through a skinboat paddle in the water. The sounds of bearded seals and bowheaded whales are unique and distinctive, and can be easily heard in the vibrations of the wooden paddle.