Fur. The mere mention of the word makes many cringe. In western urban culture, it's a contentious topic that divides us into two groups: those who deem fur fashion to be gratuitous and cruel, and fur consumers who don't care how their luxury items are procured, or just don't want to know. Now, the National Museum of Denmark puts the ethical debate on the agenda with its special exhibition, ‘Fur – An Issue of Life and Death’. For the first time, the Museum is displaying 60 of its 2,000 unique fur garments from the indigenous people of the Artic, alongside contemporary fur designs, drawing historical links from the garments of the past to those of the present, and addressing industrial fur farming and modern hunting in the Arctic. The historical use of fur is thus located in a contemporary context, where people still wear fur and when wearing fur is about much more than simply keeping warm. The exhibition runs until February 22nd, 2015.
In the program section ‘Voices in the Debate’, visitors meet around 50 supporters and opponents of fur farming and hunting. They are invited to try on real, fake and even ‘blood spattered’ furs. Together with designers, politicians, public figures, experts and people on the street, they are given the opportunity to present their opinions on fur farming, hunting and sustainability in both statements and videos, as well as through selfies and text messages, all of which are incorporated into the exhibition itself.
Fur as a Social Symbol
The historic fur garments were collected from around 1850 to 1950 in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Siberia and the Sami areas of Scandinavia. There was a time when fur was essential for survival. But fur also served functions beyond protecting against the cold. Fur garments signalled their owners’ gender and status in society, as well as identifying which ethnic group people belonged to.
In the exhibition, visitors to the museum can also experience around 30 modern creations made of fur, sealskin and artificial fur, which The National Museum has on loan from a range of designers including Bendikte Utzon and Nikoline Liv Andersen from Denmark, as well as Greenlandic designs like those by Nicki Isaksen, and the creations of international designers and fashion houses like Yves Saint Laurent, Sonia Rykiel, Oscar de la Renta, and Jean Paul Gaultier. The contemporary garments give visitors the opportunity to see the design of historical fur garments reflected in modern designs, forging links between the past and the present.
I'm very curious what the designers have to say in the 'Voices in the Debate' section, and whether their views are influenced by the culture they come from, and how they justify using fur as a textile, creating demand for furs through their collections. And I'm also very interested in the overall tone of the program and the content of the Museum's guides and printed materials, and ultimately, what comes of this ethical debate. I'm guessing that 'FUR - HARMLESS FUN FOR EVERYONE!' won't be the overriding message.