Join us / Suivez-nous

Polar Horizons’ Newsletter

Get the latest on our polar adventures. Don’t wait! Subscribe today.

Infolettre d’Horizons Polaires

Recevez les dernières nouvelles à propos de nos aventures polaires. Inscrivez-vous aujourd’hui!

Categories / Catégories

Archives

Annalise and Kurt Biedermann : An ever-growing passion for the Arctic and the Inuit

(Version française de ce texte)

Boy! I can’t believe it’s been two months since my last blog post! To catch up on the events of the last few weeks, I’d like to start by introducing you to Annalise and Kurt Biedermann, a couple from Thayngen, a village in northern Switzerland near Zurich and Lake Constance.

Annalise and Kurt Biedermann in front of the tapestry "Combs of our ancestors"  during the "Treasures of the Arctic" exhibit in Thayngen.

Annalise and Kurt Biedermann in front of the tapestry “Combs of our ancestors” during the “Treasures of the Arctic” exhibit in Thayngen. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

I was introduced to Annalise in summer 2011 by our common friend, Hans-Ludwig Blohm. Annalise was in Ottawa to attend the 25th anniversary of the Inuit Art Foundation before visiting some of her friends on Baffin Island. The minute we started chatting we immediately connected. Unfortunately, time was limited to exchange on our common passion for the Arctic but we promised to keep in touch. When Annalise informed me that she would be back in Ottawa for a few days in early June, we immediately arranged to meet. What we thought would be a discussion over lunch turned out to be an all afternoon, supper and part evening discussion!

I have never met anyone with so many sparks in her eyes, with such enthusiasm when she talks about the Arctic and her Inuit friends. I was fascinated by Annalise’s stories, by her passion and her gratitude towards all her Inuit friends who enrich her life. Our discussion definitely could have gone on for several more hours.

With no further delay, here is a summary of my chat with Annalise. Read on to discover how her passion for the Arctic was ignited. Also, you will be able to glimpse at the exhibit Annalise and her husband Kurt curated in 2010 to share their knowledge of Inuit art and culture with the Swiss population.

Annalise with her friend Elisapee in Pangnirtung. June 2013.

Annalise with her friend Elisapee in Pangnirtung. June 2013. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

How was your interest in the Arctic triggered?

I’ve had an interest as far back as I can remember. It was probably triggered in kindergarten from hearing about “Eskimos”. But, life being as it is, other priorities such as family and work, kept this interest on the back burner for many years.

Then, in 1990, I attended a congress on racism in Toronto. At the time, I was working for a Swiss-Gipsy foundation that had two main focuses:  first, to obtain apology and reparation from the Swiss Government and second, to help reunite members of Jenish families. The Jenish are Swiss citizens who used to be mainly nomadic. They are a Swiss minority with a destiny similar to the Inuit’s.

In Toronto, I had taken with me poems from a Jenish friend. I translated one of the poems and read it during a session where we were forming a circle with First Nations and other minorities. I also attended a small side presentation where Alootook Ipellie (graphic artist, cartoonist, author from Nunavut) read stories and poems from his childhood. I was so touched by his words that I just had to go talk to him.

Alootook was the very first Inuk I met and that’s where our friendship began. The following year, Alootook came to Europe for a poetry festival in France. My husband Kurt and I invited him to our home in Switzerland. Alootook became a close friend of our family. The more I familiarized myself with his writings, cartoons and artwork, the more I was fascinated by the North and the more I wanted to visit Baffin Island, Alootook’s native land. My interest which had been on the back burner for so long got revived! And now, I have no time for other passions because of my passion for the Arctic!

How often have you been to the Arctic?

Our first visit to Baffin Island occured in 1994. Kurt and I went to Pond Inlet and, on the way back, we stopped in Iqaluit where Alootook grew up.

Since then, we’ve been on Baffin Island over and over! Thanks to Alootook who introduced us to his incredible homeland and Inuit culture, we have made true Inuit friends in Pond Inlet, Pangnirtung and Iqaluit. We have learned so much about Inuit culture and Inuit art. We always came back home with wonderful memories, souvenirs and our collection of Inuit soapstone carvings, prints, books, musical tapes, etc. just kept growing.

In 1991, we also had the chance to go to Alaska (Barrow, Anaktuvuk Pass and Anchorage) to visit our son Reno who was taking part in the musical tour “Up with people”.

We have also been on a cruise along Greenland’s coast.

Definitely, we have a special bond with Baffin Island and it remains where we keep wanting to go back!

Do you remember what your very first impression was when you set foot in the Arctic for the first time?

When I got off the plane for the very first time, it was cold and windy! It was so wonderful!!

June 21 2013: Snowflakes in Iqaluit. “What a joy!” says Annalise.

June 21 2013: Snowflakes in Iqaluit. “What a joy!” says Annalise. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

 

How do you share your passion for Inuit art and culture?

For several years, Kurt and I wanted to create an exhibit with all the treasures we brought back from the Arctic. We had realized people in Switzerland know so little about the Inuit culture, and wanted to share our passion and knowledge with them.

Alootook’s unexpected death in 2007 reinforced our desire to organize such an exhibit. Many of Alootook’s art work that we own were personal gifts from him to us. We received Alootook’s work with his blessings and, more importantly, with his wish that we share them whenever possible. Such an exhibit therefore would be a way for us to fulfill Alootook’s wish and to honour his memory.

It was not until 2010 that an opportunity presented itself. We were so lucky to have the support of our community and Thayngen’s cultural group to host an exhibit in hommage to Alootook in their culture center, a former guesthouse of the 17th century. The exhibit, entitled “Treasures of the Arctic – Inuit Art and Culture”, was spread on three floors.

Thayngen’s cultural center where the exhibit was held from Oct 23 to Nov 14, 2010.

Thayngen’s cultural center where the exhibit was held from Oct 23 to Nov 14, 2010. (Photo provided by Annalise Biederman)

Alootook’s work (writings, drawings and cartoons) was shown together with artwork from artists from Pangnirtung, Cape Dorset, Iqaluit and Kangiqsujuaq.

Some of Alootook Ipellie’s drawings on display. "Treasures of the Arctic" exhibit in Thayngen.

Some of Alootook Ipellie’s drawings on display. “Treasures of the Arctic” exhibit in Thayngen. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

Visitors admiring a children’s dollhouse, an igluvigaq and its inhabitants; all displayed by specified seal bones. "Treasures of the Arctic" exhibit in Thayngen.

Visitors admiring a children’s dollhouse, an igluvigaq and its inhabitants; all displayed by specified seal bones. “Treasures of the Arctic” exhibit in Thayngen. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

 

Sculptures  and prints on display. "Treasures of the Arctic" exhibit in Thayngen.

Sculptures and prints on display. “Treasures of the Arctic” exhibit in Thayngen. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

Our friends, Martha and Peter Cerny also enriched the exhibit with various beautiful bigger carvings from their own private collection (Cerny Inuit collection in Bern). In total, we had 70 sculptures and 100 drawings, pictures and cartoons along with books, Inuit dolls, traditional clothes and photos from our own collection or from friends such as Hans Blohm.

Display of the Cerny collection and the tapestry “Combs of our ancestors” (on the left).  "Treasures of the Arctic" exhibit in Thayngen.

Display of the Cerny collection and the tapestry “Combs of our ancestors” (on the left). “Treasures of the Arctic” exhibit in Thayngen. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

Also, to have “Combs of our ancestors” as well, this precious and unique tapestry commissioned from the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts in Pangnirtung, that was serendipity. We were so very lucky.

The exhibit was presented only once but we would love to see it travel so that more people learn about Inuit art and culture.

How was the exhibit received by the community?

There was a lot of interest. Many people were touched and returned several times to visit it.

An unexpectedly large crowd showed up for our opening lecture. So large that the room we had rented turned out to be too small. Miraculously, the church was available. So we moved everybody across the street. Kurt showed photos. I did the narrating; starting out with a poem of Alootook’s, translated into German. By reflecting on Alootook’s life, we passed on the touching truth of then and shared some precious experiences living with our Inuit friends.

Annalise presenting to a large crowd in Thayngen’s church.

Annalise Biedermann presenting to a large crowd in Thayngen’s church. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

Kurt talking about Baffin Island with visitors of the "Treasures of the Arctic" exhibit in Thayngen.

Kurt Biedermann talking about Baffin Island with visitors of the “Treasures of the Arctic” exhibit in Thayngen. (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

We are very happy that our exhibit was recognized by the Swiss UNESCO Commission as a contribution to the 2010 International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. This designation – we believe – also helped attract a larger number of visitors than what was expected.

Is there one of Alootook’s work of art that has a special meaning for you?

Yes, there is indeed a special drawing. It is one that Alootook did of our family. In a letter, Alootook told us that he intended on calling the drawing “Alootook’s Repentance”. It is such a sad and meaningful drawing. He made it based on two photos of our family I had sent him. Did you notice the cross in the ocean?

Alootook passed away not long after finishing this drawing. He was finally relieved from his tantalizer, alcohol. I feel so sad that there are still too many Alootooks out there.

Alootook’s Repentance, drawing by Alootook Ipellie, 2006. (Collection Hans Blohm)

Alootook’s Repentance, drawing by Alootook Ipellie, 2006. (Collection Hans Blohm)

What was your most uncommon experience in the Arctic?

Kurt and I were alone in a friend’s house during a storm. The wind was so strong that the house was shaking.  Even big containers that were being used as shacks were blown away. We better understood why some houses have big metallic wires around them to prevent the roof from being torn away!

House in Pangnirtung with roof being held by metallic wires. Photo by Annalise Biedermann, June 2013.

House in Pangnirtung with roof being held by metallic wires. Photo by Annalise Biedermann, June 2013.

 

When you are up North, is there something from the South that you are missing?

No!

When you are in the South, is there something from the North that you are missing?

The people, their kindness, their culture, the landscape, …

Scene near Pangnirtung. Photo by Annalise Biedermann, June 2013.

Scene near Pangnirtung. Photo by Annalise Biedermann, June 2013.

What is the biggest misconception Southerners have about the Arctic?

That Inuit still live in igloos and that they drink alcohol because of the darkness. So many Southerners don’t know what is going on above the tree line.

What makes you want to keep going back to the Arctic?

The people.  I don’t feel like I’m a stranger. I really feel at home there. They share a lot with me. I’m learning so much just by looking and observing them. They all give me so much by their trust.

Life is very difficult for too many but at the same time, one finds hearty smiles all around.

There is so much serendipity in the North!

Annalise with her friend Annie during her June 2013 visit to Iqaluit. Annalise doesn’t play the accordion but who cares! They were having so much fun and laughed so hard!

Annalise with her friend Annie during her June 2013 visit to Iqaluit. Annalise doesn’t play the accordion but who cares! They were having so much fun and laughed so hard! (Photo provided by Annalise Biedermann)

Annalise: Thank you for such an uplifting discussion. May your passion continue to grow. I am looking forward to the day when I meet Kurt in person.

France

 

1 comment to Annalise and Kurt Biedermann : An ever-growing passion for the Arctic and the Inuit

  • I found three A.Ipellie pictures in a thrift store. The names of the pictures are ” The water moved an instant before” it is of three walrus. “A child and puppy” and “Comfort on the shoulders”. of a child on a man’s shoulders. Are these just prints or are they originals. Please reply. Thank you. Darlene

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>