Arts / New exhibition looks at traditions which some may view as ‘non-politically correct’

A NEW online exhibition has been launched by Shetland Museum and Archives which touches on three customs “now viewed rather emotively” – hunting seabirds and eggs, whaling and harvesting peat.

The exhibition, called Fair Game, is part of the Between Islands project which brings together the culture of Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

Islanders were renowned for risking their lives on the cliffs to collect seabirds and their eggs. This group in Orkney used the same kind of net that Shetlanders did, and the Faroese still do.

Museums in the three island groups have created their own exhibition inspired by each other’s history and collections.

Shetland museum curator Ian Tait said: “I am delighted to see the final instalment of this project which connects historical culture between the three islands go live.

“Originally it was intended to be a physical exhibition with items from each island loaned to the other. However, due to the pandemic each partnering museum has had to adapt so that the information can be shared virtually.

“The result is an online show which is presented through a fantastic new website. It explores three customs, which are now viewed rather emotively – fowling, whaling and peat cutting.


“We have looked at processes or traditions that are now seen as ‘non-politically correct’ and take a non-judgemental, factual approach to them, exploring how islanders traditionally used these resources, why they abandoned traditions and question what’s to stop their return in the future?

“The website looks at each of these topics in sequence and brings the material to life through a combination of archive images, maps, paintings, literature, re-enactments, audio footage and new films.

“One example is a film on fowling, which shows how islanders used to risk their lives to feed the family, portraying the terrifying peril of hunting seabirds and gathering their eggs in the cliffs of Shetland, Orkney and Hebrides.”

Museum nan Eilean in the Hebrides focuses on unexpected aspects of island culture in their Tales of the Unexpected exhibition, highlighting some misconceptions about life on the island groups, looking at designers, living traditions, and industry.

The Shetland content includes mining, poultry farming, and guising.

Orkney Museum’s Orkney: Between Islands explores the inspiration and legacy of the islands in arts, crafts and literature, which includes a detailed look at Shetland carpentry, Fair Isle knitting, and the work of author/photographer Jack Peterson.

The Shetland Exhibition can be viewed here.
The complete Between Islands project can be found online.