Northern lights and ‘Indians of Europe’ in photo exhibition

Because of the war taking place in Iraq and and all the anti-aircraft fire which, until recently, lit up the sky at night as if it were daytime, the night sky has not been at its best lately. Yet photographer Dimitra Zirou has managed to put things back into perspective with her latest work, currently on display at the Goulandris Natural History Museum. The exhibition consists of photographs of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, a captivating natural phenomenon which she experienced while traveling inside the Arctic Circle, the only place where it is visible. A marvel of different colors and shapes, this magnificent spectacle put on by nature is not an infrequent sight in the Arctic at night. Astronomer Dionysis Simopoulos, who addressed the public at the opening of the exhibition in a specially designed hall of the museum, explained that the aurora borealis consists of bright rays which are transformed at an amazingly fast pace into different color combinations, thus creating striking patterns in the Arctic sky. The phenomenon is a result of electrically charged protons and electrons that originate from the sun and manage to enter the Earth’s magnetic field and reach the highest levels of the atmosphere. These particles come into collision with atoms of gases in the atmosphere, mainly atoms of oxygen and nitrogen, and the result is the millions of tiny flashes which form the so-called northern lights. The different colors that appear each time provide information about the kinds of gases that exist in certain parts of the atmosphere as well as the temperature of the atmosphere’s highest strata. The earliest references to this natural phenomenon can be found in the Old Testament and in Aristotle’s work. Apart from the aurora borealis, Zirou has also photographed the Sami, an indigenous minority residing in Lapland, in a large area stretching from northern Norway, Sweden and Finland to the Kola peninsula in Russia. The so-called «Indians of Europe» are thought to number around 80,000 and Zirou’s photographs reveal to the public unknown and intriguing aspects of their daily lives. The exhibition also includes a third section: a video about Nills-Aslak Valkeapaa, a major intellectual figure among the Sami who became involved with painting, music and multimedia and who was awarded a literature prize for his poetry work «Eanni, Eannazan» (The Sun, My Father). Zirou’s exhibition at the Goulandris Natural History Museum will be on until June 7. Goulandris Natural History Museum, 13 Levidou, Kifissia, Athens, tel 210.801.5870, 210.808.6405. Open daily from 9 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays.