Subhankar Banerjee: Resource Wars in the Arctic

Posted on March 01, 2007 by Kristin Swan

Hood Quarterly, spring 2007
Katherine Hart, Associate Director and Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming

Five years ago, Subhankar Banerjee spent almost two years in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, photographing this remote region in northeastern Alaska in all four seasons. His work there coincided with the push by oil companies and the current U.S. administration to open up the oil and gas reserves on the coastal plain to drilling. During his travels over nearly four thousand miles of the 19.5-million-acre refuge by foot, raft, kayak, and snowmobile, he stayed in both interior and coastal villages with both Gwich'in Athabascan and Inupiat families, respectively, absorbing their close and intricate relationships to the northern environment and the birds and animals that thrive there.

Soon after Banerjee returned, controversy surrounding an exhibition of his work at the Smithsonian—and his clear advocacy of preservation in the accompanying written texts—put him in the middle of the heated political dispute about the drilling proposal. During a debate on the U.S. Senate floor a month before the exhibition opening, Senator Barbara Boxer actually held up one of Banerjee's photographs. The work subsequently toured the country, accompanied by the catalogue Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land (2003), with a foreword by Nobel Peace Laureate and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and essays by Peter Matthiessen and Terry Tempest Williams, a recent Montgomery fellow at Dartmouth, among others. Banerjee's passionate work for the preservation of Arctic natural sanctuaries made him the first recipient of the Lannan Foundation's Cultural Freedom Fellowship.

In 2006, Banerjee returned to Alaska and photographed Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding wetlands and the Kasegaluk Lagoon in the northern Chukchi Sea, both of which remain under consideration for development for oil and gas drilling. The Hood is exhibiting work from both of Banerjee's trips north through four monumental habitat photographs depicting polar bear (through an image of a den), Pacific brant and snow geese, and caribou. In addition, the Hood will exhibit a recent acquisition titled Caribou Migration I, 2002. Banerjee has written about the transformative effect of his experiences photographing the northern regions:

In late 2000, when I first started to plan my journey to the Arctic, I used to think of the land as untouched by man, a so-called Last Frontier. After six years of intense engagement with the land, its peoples, and its issues, I see the Arctic not as a Last Frontier but as the most connected land on the planet. This connection is both celebratory— millions of birds from every land on the planet migrate to the Arctic each year for nesting and rearing their young, a planetary celebration of epic scale—and tragic, as resource wars (oil, coal, mineral), global warming, and toxic migrations have in turn connected the Arctic to the lives of people in faraway lands in a rather tragic manner too.

The photographer will visit Dartmouth on March 30 to talk about his work and answer questions about his involvement in the conservation and preservation of these Arctic landscapes and the wildlife that live there. Subhankar Banerjee: Resource Wars in the American Arctic will be shown at the Hood Museum of Art from March 27 through May 20, 2007.  

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Written March 01, 2007 by Kristin Swan