Though the American Swedish Historical Museum spotlights Scandinavian past, the cultural institution’s current exhibition elevates the Nordic region’s present and, perhaps, its future.
“Nordic Changes: Works by Diane Burko,” which runs at the Packer Park museum through Jan. 5, highlights a prolific local artist whose paintings and photographs specifically surround climate change and environmental activism.
Considering Northern Europen and Arctic nations have most intensely experienced realities of climate change, the American Swedish Historical Museum, located in FDR Park, felt a sense of responsibility to inform its attendees about the region’s current concerns.
“We try to touch on contemporary life and modern society in each exhibit, but this one really does focus on the future of this region in the Arctic and the beauty and fragility of it,” said museum curator Trevor Brandt. “Obviously, climate change is something that a lot of cultural organizations are trying to talk about now, because this is something that’s very important and something that’s not necessarily accepted by everybody, so we see it as part of our mission as educating people about the importance of this topic.”
From the Petermann Glacier on the Northwestern coast of Greenland to
Langjökull, the second-largest icecap in Iceland, Burko has depicted a scope of major Arctic landscapes.
Burko, who studied painting and art history at Skidmore College and received her MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, draws inspiration from firsthand witnessing of melting glaciers and icecaps.
Burko’s process ranges from taking photos from Cessna seaplane and helicopters to deriving paintings from NASA satellite images.
As the American Swedish Historical Museum aims to raise its artistic profile, Brandt says the institution’s mission aligns with Burko’s vision, as both recognize the effectiveness of using art as a medium to convey pressing environmental messages.
“(Burko) sees her job, and, as an extension, we at the museum see our jobs as relaying the messages that scientists are discovering that they might not necessarily be able to get across in scientific papers to the wider public,” Brandt said. “In a sense, we’re symbolizing what scientists are discovering.”
The exhibition also features work of art from Burko’s own personal collection, including a sculpture titled “SHATTERED ICE III,” which was crafted by Burko’s late colleague Paula Winokur.
Encompassing paintings and photos manifested over the last decade, Burko’s featured work at the museum includes abstract work alongside more realism pieces.
“She doesn’t just see herself as a painter,” Brandt said. “She sees herself as, in whatever medium possible, depicting the effects of climate change. It’s exciting for us to have different mediums.”
One of the exhibit’s most appealing abstract works is concurrently the most scientifically striking.
Painted in 2015, the work depicts the receding Greenland’s Ilulissat Glacier, revealing how the frozen landform has melted from the 1850s through 2012.
“We see ourselves kind of as an intermediary because our name is the American Swedish Historical Museum,” Brandt said. “But we really see ourselves as being the only area in the greater Philadelphia region that highlights this region of the world…It’s really a region of the world that has been more acutely impacted by climate change.”
The mid-September opening of “Nordic Changes,” which Brandt organized alongside guest curator Kirsten M. Jensen, was attended by H.E. Bergdís Ellertsdóttir, who is the ambassador of Iceland to the United States.
Ellertsdóttir spoke about the effects of climate change on Iceland, specifically discussing the official “death” of the Nordic island nation’s Okjökull Glacier.
“I hope people can recognize a region that is impacted by climate change,” Brandt said. “Often, here in Philadelphia, we don’t see the day-to-day impacts of climate change – so, looking at an area of the world where you really do see the impacts.”
To learn more about the exhibit, visit: www.americanswedish.org/exhibitions/nordic-changes-works-diane-burko.