The polar nights painted by Jean Malaurie

Anthropologist, writer, Jean Malaurie alone personifies the defense of the Arctic peoples, he contributes as a scientist and an artist to renewing the way we look at the first peoples and traditional civilizations. In a text published in the Herne notebook dedicated to him, he says that writing and photography have become as indispensable as its own members. He also evokes in a few modest lines pastels, which he paints ” not to express the field of wheat that I had before my eyes, but a precise arctic landscape that inhabited me with such truth that I was there, precisely. “Marie Sorbier went to ask Joëlle Rostkowski to show us the pastels of Jean Malaurie.

Transmitting the Inuit world

The specialist in Amerindian cultures of North America, Joëlle Rostkowski underlines the importance of Jean Malaurie’s pastels for him. They are a complementary form of expression that allows him to release his inspirations in a different way, beyond his books, his films and his famous photographs, in particular those grouped together in “L’appel du Nord”.

Jean Malaurie precisely wanted to represent the arctic landscape he has inhabited all his life. It has been 40 years since he took the chalks and, under the impulse of the Inuit, made pastels.” Joelle Rostkowski

The pastel brings it closer to a meditative contemplation. The fact of touching with his hands a material like chalk, unlike cameras and cameras, allowed him to take the measure of this unfathomable landscape.

Thanks to the pastels, he could share his personal vision of the world of the polar night.Joelle Rostkowski

The polar night, muse of Jean Malaurie

Thus, standing in front of the pastels amounts to physically feeling the influence that a landscape can have on man. Far from the white expanses that one easily imagines when one thinks of the polar worlds, Jean Malaurie rushes us into a darkness worthy of Soulage, and just as poetic.

He began to reproduce the way light can pass through the night, how black and white complement each other in contrast.Joelle Rostkowski

In addition to white and black, very pale blues and highlights of carmine illuminate this series of pastels. Jean Malaurie is particularly fond of moments of transition when, from the night, the light shines. His aesthetic research is to reproduce the idea of ​​creation, the end of the world and the flight of men in the arctic sky of the tundra.

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The landscape that inhabits him, he shares it with those who look at his pastels. In the Orenda gallery we show five of them and we present them with masks from Alaska, masks by contemporary artists who are from Kodiak Island for the most part.” Joelle Rostkowski

Jean Malaurie is very happy with this collaboration between his world and these contemporary works by Arctic artists.

Meditative pastels and breaths of resistance

Spiritually liberated by his Inuit companions, pastels have become for him a means of expression in harmony with nature.

The Inuit taught him to look, to meditate and to allow himself to be penetrated by the force of nature. In a way, this indigenous spirituality allowed him to better understand the world by making himself silent so that nature could speak to him.Joelle Rostkowski

Without thinking about it consciously, Jean Malaurie very often opposes our societies which want to dominate nature and exploit it, with those which live in nature and which adapt to it. Adopting the defense of the Inuit peoples, Jean Malaurie wishes to give them back their voice, and has written a letter to support them in their resistance.

“The natives are trying to defend themselves, but they insist that we as the West can cooperate in this resistance. Obviously we are talking about the melting of the ice in the Arctic and all the new developments in could be associated with this melting of the ice.Joelle Rostkowski

To read :

  • “The memoirs of Jean Malaurie, From stone to soul” have just been published by Editions

    plon“Human Lands” collection

  • “Letter to an Inuit of 2022” was published by Editions

    Fayard in 2015

Have : discover for free the exhibition “The pastels of Jean Malaurie surrounded by Inuit masks and Native American art” at the

Orenda Gallery until next November 27 in Paris, then at

Oceanographic Museum of Monaco from January 12, 2023.

The polar nights painted by Jean Malaurie