Feb. 27 is International Polar Bear Day

February 27 is International Polar Bear Day.

Janet Biggs on Svalbard. Sign translate from Norwegian: "Applies to whole."

Janet Biggs on Svalbard. Sign translate from Norwegian: “Applies to whole.”

The Day was created by Polar Bears International to coincide with the period when polar bear moms and cubs are snug in their dens. As part of the celebration, PBI focuses on the need to protect denning families across the Arctic. Denning is the most vulnerable time in a polar bear’s life. And in a warming Arctic, where polar bears face enormous challenges, the survival of every single cub is critically important.

Video artist Janet Biggs traveled to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard—well within the Arctic Circle—with a crew of artists and scientists to document the changing Arctic landscape. Scientists expect climate change to leave Arctic summers ice-free as early as the next decade, and Svalbard finds itself at the epicenter of this metamorphosis.

“Polar bear cubs are born in winter dens hidden under the snow. At birth, they are blind, weigh little more than one pound, and have only a light layer of fur to protect them from the cold. Families remain in the den until spring when the cubs are finally large enough to survive the rigors of outside Arctic conditions,” according to the PBI website.

Biggs explores this history and the alarming consequences of human enterprise in three videos: Warning Shot (2016), Brightness All Around (2011), and Fade to White (2010). Shown together, these works are a clarion call for a heroic landscape that will completely transform within our lifetimes.

polar bear paw print

Polar Bear Paw Print

Janet Biggs: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape is organized by the Barry Lopez Foundation for Art & Environment. Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Barry Lopez Foundation works with contemporary artists to organize exhibitions addressing climate change, biodiversity, habitat loss, and our relationship with the land in a time of environmental crisis.

“To follow a bear, or simply follow in its tracks, is to “reeeally learn something,” as the Inuit say, smiling. Not only about where a bear went, but how it dealt with what happened along the way. A set of tracks might lead where a bear had leaped into the air and come down headed in another direction—and you would look around for evidence of what surprised it. The trail of a cub alongside its mother disappears where it has crawled up onto its mother’s back for a ride on a cold day. Bear tracks on the sea ice might follow the line of a pressure ridge at a distance of 100 feet or so on the downwind side… Another set of tracks might turn suddenly and continue in an unerring line, and an aglu—a seal’s breathing hole—would be at the end, with signs of the bear’s patient waiting.”

—Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986): 97.

polar bearSleeping Polar Bear

Wherever you were on the internet in February, you were bound to see “the sleeping polar bear.”

Amateur photographer Nima Sarikhani’s stunning photo of a polar bear sleeping on ice has won the 2023 Wildlife Photographer of the Year 59 People’s Choice Award, by London’s Natural History Museum.

James Ashworth writes on the Natural History Museum website: “Titled Ice Bed, Nima’s photo was taken off the Svalbard archipelago, the image shows a male polar bear who has just laid down to sleep on a small iceberg.

“Whilst climate change is the biggest challenge we face, I hope that this photograph also inspires hope. There is still time to fix the mess we have caused.” Sarikhani wrote on the Natural History Museum website.

Janet Biggs and Nima Sarikhani hope that their art will bring attention to climate change and its effects on the world’s environment.

Polar Bears International is available online at: https://polarbearsinternational.org/ or on Facebook @PolarBearsInternational

Janet Biggs: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape is on view at the Everson Museum of Art, in Syracuse, NY, through May 12, 2024: https://everson.org/explore/current-exhibitions/janet-biggs/


Janet Biggs on Svalbard. Sign translate from Norwegian: "Applies to whole."
Janet Biggs on Svalbard. Sign translate from Norwegian: “Applies to whole.”