|"Sedna" encaustic and mixed media, 2012|
For the past 800,000 years much of the Arctic Ocean has been covered in ice. While the area between 60˚ and 75˚ N is seasonal, with ice-free periods lasting from one to four months, much of ocean north of this permanently covered. The Arctic Ocean has been deeply impacted by the onset of climate change. Every summer sees a massive decrease in ice with each winter failing to completely replace the ice that is lost. In the past four or five decades the impact has been rapidly increasing with the last six years showing the lowest ice amounts recorded.
For species that have adapted to the cold water temperatures and ice in their habitats, such as polar bears, ring and harp seals, walrus, beluga whales and bowhead whales, the effects are extremely detrimental. Not only this but the receding ice leaves the Arctic Ocean accessible to industry such as drilling for oil and gas and large-scale commercial fishing. Traditional practices of indigenous peoples are also at risk. Practises held for years are becoming obsolete through the changing environment and traditional knowledge may be no longer relevant.
Through my painting I wanted to address specifically the issues that arise with the receding ice line as well as convey the impact on tradition through looking at indigenous mythology. The mythology of almost any culture is deeply rooted in its weather, climate and geographical area. So it is with the traditional legends of the natives in countries surrounding the Arctic Ocean. The legend of Sedna is found in various forms in the arctic. Sedna is the goddess of sea animals and the ocean in Inuit mythology with other names among different regions. There are slightly different versions from Greenland, Canada and Alaska. The story goes that Sedna was tricked into marrying a fulmar that took her with him to his island in the sea. After she had lived with him for some time, her father came to visit and Sedna begged him to take her home with him. When the fulmar was away they began to kayak back to their home. When the bird discovered their absence he was furious and called up a storm to kill them so her father threw Sedna overboard to save himself. She hung on to the side of the kayak though so he chopped off her fingers, which became the various creatures. Sedna sunk to the bottom of the ocean where she rules the animals of the sea.
As the sea ice is eroded, the discussions over this unclaimed territory and its resources will change how the land is viewed. The central Arctic Ocean is not governed by any international fisheries agreements, which leaves the area free unless one is passed, and oil industries are also looking to establish industry for off-shore drilling surrounding the ocean. Using oil pastels, encaustic and mixed media, I try to convey the idea that the Arctic is not simply a source for these materials but a place with history, identity and inhabitants. In “claiming nature” as it were, we often forget the place in favour of producing goods, making money, etc. The consequences are not given the consideration they deserve. In the past, overfishing has decimated whole species, oil drilling has caused irreversible damage to the environment, and many other issues have arisen because the North American way of life is generally to be separated from nature.
The images at the top of the painting show the melting icebergs while the Google directions shows the possibility of an ice-free Arctic Ocean that allows for passage. The image of Sedna is surrounded and trapped by nets to demonstrate the impact on both marine life and traditional values of nature and land.