A Fisherman, the Inuit, and the Brooklyn Art Scene
Jim Clark in his gallery with one of his favorite Inuit sculptures
As a young man looking for adventure, Jim Clark took a job as an Alaskan king crab fisherman. Fifteen years later, he had found as well a deep and abiding love for the land, the art, and the culture of the Inuit. A former first mate of two Alaskan king crab fishing boats, Clark now owns Look North Gallery, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The gallery draws attention to Inuit art, and by extension, to the global warming crisis. Clark showcases both established and emerging Inuit artists in the gallery, and in 2008 Look North began representing the Polar photography of world-renowned fine arts photographer Rena Bass Forman. Treehugger recently asked Jim Clark about the gallery, the Inuit, fishing, and Red Hook's incoming Ikea.Treehugger (TH): What made you decide to open this gallery in New York City?
Jim Clark(JC): I believe the artwork we represent tastefully and effectively creates awareness of climate change. Also, Inuit Art continues to be the main source of income for many Inuit communities up North.
As far as personal reasons, I felt it was time to leave the Alaskan Commercial Fishing Industry. However, the land, the culture and the art of the Arctic had become such a part of me. The gallery has allowed me to keep this part of myself and experience it from a new standpoint. I also saw that there was a void and lack of representation in New York City for this great Arctic artwork.
TH: I've read that the Inuit's lifestyle and livelihood is at risk due to global warming. Is this something you witnessed while collecting Inuit art?
JC: This is something that is happening as we speak, and I have seen it first hand. For example, many Inuit store meat in the frozen ground to preserve it and to have food throughout the winter. They are now experiencing the permafrost melting and their winter food source spoiling. Another example: the thickness of ice covering lakes is rapidly decreasing, thus making traditional crossings much more dangerous. The Inuit say these experiences are new, and that they know of no other time in their history when things like this occurred. I think many of us see global warming as a problem for our future, but for many Inuit it is a problem of the present day.
TH: And why don't the people seem to capture as much attention as the polar bears?
JC: I'm not sure why polar bears have become such an iconic symbol of climate change. I suppose it is good that something is creating concern for that part of the world, and hopefully people will explore things more, and learn about the challenges the Inuit are facing as well.
TH: From having worked as a fisherman, what can you say about your front seat experience of looking at the state of Alaskan king crab fishery? Are king crabs declining? Do you believe we should have stricter catch limits?
JC: I believe the Alaskan king crab fishery is managed well and that there isn't a need for stricter catch limits for this fishery. One of the reasons for the health of the bio-mass is that crab fishing (pot fishing) is a very clean fishery that produces very minimal by-catch. From what I have seen, the damage done to marine ecosystems due to commercial fishing is more a reflection of trawlers and draggers. I worked on a factory trawler for one trip for about a month in 1991. Disgusted by the crudeness of the fishery, and the amount of by-catch caught, I broke my contract and quit as soon as we hit the dock. I then got a job on a king crab boat and continued crab fishing for 15 years.
TH: How did you get in contact with Rena Bass Forman?
JC: Almost by chance. A friend invited me to an art opening featuring Forman's Sri Lanka series at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery. In the back room closed off to the public I saw this beautiful iceberg landscape photograph of Greenland that stopped me in my tracks. I hadn't been that affected by an artwork in some time. Rena was at the opening so I introduced myself. We both have a similar love and concern for the Arctic, and our relationship has grown from there.
TH: Is your gallery doing any work with the community to preserve the industrial feel of shipping in New York Harbor?
JC: The other thing I'm passionate about is the maritime industry and the working waterfront. We have been working with others in the community to make sure the working waterfront is not lost. The gallery is looking into having exhibitions relating to these issues. Look North has great views of the New York harbor from the gallery floor, so it would be a very fitting space for this type of exhibition.
TH: What do you think of the soon to open IKEA store in Red Hook?
JC: I personally don't have anything against IKEA, but I believe their new location is not an appropriate use of waterfront property. I am also concerned about the traffic, and that it will most likely not be supporting local businesses.
Look North has formed alliances with Arctic Bear Productions, Al Gore's Climate Project, and the American Museum of Natural History. Clark says the gallery donates a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of polar bear sculptures Arctic Bear Production's(creators of the movie Arctic Tale) Arctic Exploration Fund in order to document the effects of climate change in the North.
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