Arctic review – stark eco warnings from the ice-braving hunters who battled whales

Arctic review – stark eco warnings from the ice-braving hunters who battled whalesOctober 21, 2020

British Museum, London
From sleds made of bones to supernatural sealskin hunting suits, this stirring show celebrates the heroism and ingenuity of humans who survive in balance with nature

A whaling suit towers up, as if some muscular occupant is still inside, looming over you. The suit, one of the highlights of this mind-expanding dive into Arctic cultures, is the Moby-Dick of clothes. Created by the Kalaallit people of south-west Greenland some time before 1834, it is like a modern survival suit: it could even be inflated by blowing into a tube. Except – it’s made of sealskin. Wearing this watertight armour, a hunter would leap from a small boat on to a whale’s back and spear it with a harpoon. But it’s not just a buoyancy aid. It is also a magical garment, thought to give its occupant the power of a seal, allowing them to stay afloat and endure the iciest water.

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