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DOI 10.1215/10757163-2009-003 © 2010 by Nka Publications Arctic Spaces DOI 10.1215/10757163-2009-003 Journal of Contemporary African Art• 26• Spring 2010 30 • Nka C limate change has brought renewed attention to the Arctic, as scientists and the media reportalmostdailyonitsshrinkingicemasses. Recently, there has been a shift from an image of the polar region as a representation of physical terror and the sublime to its visualization as the ground zero of catastrophic climate change. The spectacle of climate change’s effects is drawing more people to the Arctic than ever before. No longer seen as a forbidden place, the Arctic has become a site for the new international rush for territory and scarce natural resources. With the exception of the last international geophysical year in 1957–58, the Arctic has not received this kind of popular attention since the heyday of colonialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The race to the poles during that era was seen as an important vehicle for nation building and the advance of scientific knowledge. In what follows, I reconsider my book Gender on Ice (1993) in relation to Isaac Julien’s movie True North (2004) to examine how twentieth-century discourses are reworked one hundred years later in the context of twenty-first-century artistic practices. As I wrote C Isaac Julien, True North, 2004. Installation views at Umea Bildmuseet, Sweden. Triple-screen projection, 16mm black-and-white and color film, DVD transfer with sound, duration 0:14:20. Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York in Gender on Ice, polar exploration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was integral to the social construction of a distinctive nexus of white manhood and nationalism and at that time was crucial to reifying a particular form of white masculinity .1 In the early twentieth century, both the North and South Poles represented one of the few remaining masculine testing grounds where “adventure and hardship could still be faced.”2 Significantly, women and people of color had no role in this vehicle for nation and culture building and the advance of scientific knowledge at this historical moment. Almost one hundred years later, the Arctic is no longer the site of a privileged white masculinity, and the region is understood not just as a remote area but, rather, as a space closely if complexly connected to globalized and political forces. Focusing on the work of Isaac Julien, this article asks, “What new stories and images are being produced through recent attempts to revisualize the Arctic?” In what follows I examine how Julien’s work plays off or is in dialogue with issues raised in Gender on Ice about the heroic age of polar exploration, as well as the ways in which his video takes the critical scholarship Lisa E. Bloom Politics and Aesthetics in True North and Gender on Ice Bloom Nka • 31 Journal of Contemporary African Art• 26• Spring 2010 32 • Nka by Gender on Ice stems from how it was written, particularly how its style plays off the epic quality of these male heroic narratives set in regions that overwhelm the senses with their dangerous weather, extreme cold, blinding light, and whiteness . The book’s playfulness is announced by its cover, which displays artwork by the Australian artist Narelle Jubelin to foreground the book’s antiheroic emphasis. The image is a close-up in petit point of the disintegrating face of a polar explorer. This disturbing image is placed within a bombastic gilt frame to explicitly underline the book’s overriding thesis: how the traumatic experience of failure in both the British and the American expeditions was reworked to turn the official version of events into something worthy of public reverence.3 A case study rather than a highly theoretical work, Gender on Ice broke new ground by bringing colonial discourses of exploration, science, and adventure not only under the consideration of gender studies but also into conversation with cultural studies of race and ethnicity. In this project, the parameters of gender studies were stretched to include its historically “other” subjects, marking a shift in feminist practice at that time. Thus Gender on Ice is not a...


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