In a Prairie city, 2,000 kilometres from Iqaluit, Canada is building a monument to Inuit culture: Qaumajuq, the new Inuit art centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, opens to the public March 27. It will house the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world, with examples from all four regions of the Nunangat – the Inuit homeland in Canada – as well as work from other circumpolar territories; the planning has involved Inuit curators, artists and elders from the start. And yet Qaumajuq sits on the Métis homeland and traditional territories of the Cree, Dene and Dakota, a place of tall grasses and big rivers far distant from the blue ice and sharp peaks of the Nunangat.
“We get that question a lot,” WAG director Stephen Borys says.
Truth is, Winnipeg has always been a cultural crossroads. With a colonial history as a fort, a Hudson’s Bay depot and a medical centre, it is the place where East meets West and the South goes North. In the 1950s, it was already a city where a Viennese art historian could start the WAG collection by buying Inuit carvings at the Bay. Today, it’s the place where the first Inuk with a PhD in art history can help launch a unique collaboration between the gallery, the government of Nunavut, the First Nations of Manitoba and the people of the North.
“Museums came out of a history of the Western [way of] knowing, documenting, classifying and colonializing: Museums were places to hold knowledge of other cultures,” said curator Heather Igloliorte, the Labrador Inuk and Concordia University art historian who advised the WAG. “It’s a lot of work to unpack how institutions function in the present. I am very proud of the work we are doing and grateful to everyone at the WAG. … We are really going somewhere.”
One of the reasons this is happening at the WAG is because the institution has a long commitment to collecting Inuit art created after 1949. It began buying seriously in the 1950s long before other Canadian public galleries, which tended to view the carvings and prints as ethnographic material best left to what was then called the Museum of Man in Ottawa. This origin story is a funny one: Ferdinand Eckhardt, the Austrian lured to Winnipeg to lead WAG in 1953, first saw Inuit sculpture in the gift shop at the Bay, located just across the street from the gallery. Why, he wondered, wasn’t his institution collecting this unique Northern art form?
The collection grew rapidly, regularly enhanced by donations from local collectors encouraged by Eckhardt’s interest, but also including several pieces he actually purchased from the Bay. By 2008, when Borys arrived on the scene, the WAG had amassed more than 13,000 works, both sculptures and prints, including many of the most recognized Cape Dorset images such as Kenojuak Ashevak’s The Enchanted Owl. (Only the archive of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative of Cape Dorset has more items, while the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa has a larger collection of archeological material.) Meanwhile, the WAG has continued to acquire the increasingly non-traditional and unconventional work produced by contemporary Inuit artists.
With that scale of collection, overseen by curator Darlene Coward Wight, the WAG became an obvious partner for Nunavut after the establishment of the new territory in 1999. The Nunavut archives hold a collection of more than 7,000 works, all kept in storage awaiting the day when the territory can finally build an art centre of its own. In the meantime, it has lent the material to Winnipeg, where many pieces will go on public display for the very first time and will also be digitized for remote access.
Physically, many of the sculptures will be housed in the three-storey-high open vault that is the centrepiece of Qaumajuq and the new building designed by Los Angeles architect Michael Maltzan. It’s a tower of glass shelving that brings 4,500 carvings into the light, profiting from stone’s immunity to UV damage. It can be seen from the street through the glass façade that makes up the lower half of the building; the curving upper portion, clad in white granite, echoes the shape of an iceberg, and the whole wing tucks up alongside the blunt end of the modernist triangle that is the original WAG building. At night, the vault will shine like a lantern and at any time of day it stands as a symbol of the new institution’s transparency. Qaumujuq means “it is bright,” or “it is lit,” in Inuktitut.
Before Maltzan came on board, the WAG had already established an Indigenous advisory circle co-chaired by Igloliorte, who grew up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.: Her father’s family hails from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit territory in Labrador, while her mother is a white Newfoundlander. The advisory circle has stressed several areas in which the WAG could decolonize as it built Qaumajuq; the most obvious is the use of Inuktitut and First Nations names for all the galleries, chosen by a group of 14 elders and language keepers. The front lobby and vault are called Ilavut, meaning “our relatives,” recognizing both the artists and the artworks as spiritual predecessors.
“It’s not just lip service but making Indigenous language part of the institution,” Igloliorte said, stressing that Inuktitut names, rather than generic English descriptors, were being used by gallery staff. “What’s unique about this advisory circle was it was formed before ground was broken. … The WAG was willing to give up some power and authority to Indigenous people.”
The circle also recommended there be an Indigenous member of the WAG executive – she is Julia Lafreniere, head of Indigenous initiatives, who is Métis – and more Indigenous participation in the education department. (The nearby Canadian Museum for Human Rights got in trouble last year after it was discovered that non-Indigenous docents were telling First Nations stories to visitors.)
Part of Lafreniere’s job is to figure out what Qaumajuq means to the Indigenous community on Treaty One, the 1871 agreement covering southern Manitoba, a territory that is home to five First Nations and the Métis.
“It’s really important that we are praying for the artwork and welcoming it to this territory; welcoming Inuit knowledge to this territory,” Lafreniere said, adding there were many similar traditions among Indigenous peoples but that Inuit geography was very different. She pointed to the figure of Sedna, the goddess of the sea who features in Inuit creation myths and visual art, as an example of a maritime culture quite foreign to First Nations in Manitoba. Blending the various cultures, Lafreniere has been organizing a series of opening ceremonies, some virtual, some outdoor, relying on Inuit and First Nations elders for appropriate prayers, songs and dances. Until the pandemic is clear, the only Inuit who can visit Qaumajuq are the few who live in Winnipeg already or who have come south for medical care, but the WAG is offering free admission to all Indigenous people on March 22.
“My favourite thing is to bring Inuit people into the building and see their faces light up,” she said.
Physical visitors will also be able to tour Inua, the centre’s inaugural exhibition. It’s another exercise in inclusion, organized by four curators from each region of the Nunangat. From east to west, Igloliorte comes from Nunatsiavut, Asinnajaq is an artist from Nunavik in Northern Quebec; Krista Ulujuk Zawadski is the curator of Inuit art for the government of Nunavut, and Kablusiak, an Inuk artist from the West now based in Calgary, was shortlisted for the Sobey Award in 2019.
The show they have put together, featuring 100 works by artists from across the circumpolar region, includes some Inuit art from the 1960s and 1970s, but also some highly contemporary examples, including Jesse Tungilik’s sealskin spacesuit and two works by Eldred Allen, a Labrador photographer who stitches together multiple drone photos to create digitally altered landscapes.
“We want to surprise people and say how you are thinking about Inuit art is not the only way to think about Inuit art,” Igloliorte said.
The four have also included an ancestor display where each presents a work by a forbearer, recognizing the way Inuit art is often created by artistic dynasties. Igloliorte has included a caribou skin purse sewn by her grandmother, the seamstress Susannah Igloliorte.
The bold contemporary works, many specially commissioned for the opening, will provide a powerful contrast to Ilavut, the open vault that features many of the stone carvings on loan from Nunavut.
How long will they stay there, thousands of kilometres away from home? The WAG has renewed a five-year loan agreement with Nunavut to 2025, but “I will be the first to send it back as soon as they want it,” Borys said. “It’s a wheel, and we are not the hub, but a spoke.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the Inuit art centre Qaumajuq.
Qaumajuq, the new Inuit art centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, opens to the public March 27 with a limited number of free timed tickets that day. The virtual opening celebrations take place March 25 and March 26 at 6:30 p.m. CST, and can be viewed at wag.ca/opening.
Imaginations, creativity of Mountview students on display at Cariboo Art Beat – Williams Lake Tribune – Williams Lake Tribune
Creative, imaginative artwork of students from Mountview Elementary School will be on public display at the gallery of Cariboo Art Beat until April 9.
“The students of Mountview elementary were all invited to participate in an art contest,” Tiffany Jorgensen said, an artist at Cariboo Art Beat.
Each class was separately judged by three professional artists at Cariboo Art Beat, Jorgensen said, based on the students’ creativity, techniques, use of space and originality.
“It was extremely difficult to select pieces from the abundance of beautiful art presented,” she said. “There is so much talent and fantastic imaginations.”
The artist of each selected piece was given formal invitations to their art show to distribute to whomever they choose, and Jorgensen said anyone is free to view the beautiful artwork throughout until April 9.
Honoured at the show were works from local artists Ryker Hagen, Annika Nilsson, Rylie Trampleasure, Angus Shoults, Izabella Telford, Isabella Buchner, Kai Pare and more.
“Come view their wonderful pieces to get a glimpse into the minds of our creative youth,” Jorgensen said.
“It’s been so fun. The kids have come in and seen their work on display with their grandparents, parents, and they’re all so excited.”
Following up on the success of the Mountview art show, Jorgensen said more elementary schools have been invited to participate.
April will feature the works of Nesika and Big Lake, followed by Marie Sharpe and Chilcotin Road next month.
Cariboo Art Beat is located at 19 First Ave., under Caribou Ski Source for Sports’ entrance on Oliver Street.
Launching the conversation on Newfoundland and Labrador art history
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. —
“Future Possible: An Art History of Newfoundland and Labrador” is a book that has been a long time coming, Mireille Eagan says.
While working at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Prince Edward Island, Eagan curated an exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador joining Confederation with Canada.
“As I was researching, I noticed that there was very little that existed in terms of the art history of this province,” she said. “There wasn’t even a Wikipedia article.”
Noticing this large gap, “Future Possible” was a book that needed to exist, she said.
As the 70th anniversary approached in 2019, Eagan, now living in St. John’s and working as curator of contemporary art at The Rooms, envisioned filling that gap.
Over two summers, The Rooms held a two-part exhibition. The first looked at the visual culture and visual narratives before the province joined Confederation and the second focused on 1949 onward, Eagan said.
“At its core, it was asking, what are the stories we tell ourselves as a province? It was looking at iconic artworks, it was looking at texts that have been written about this place, and it put these works in conversation with contemporary artworks,” Eagan said.
In the foreword to the book, chief executive officer of The Rooms Anne Chafe described it as a complement to the exhibition and a project that “does not seek to be the final say. It seeks, instead, to launch the conversation.”
History and identity
One example of that conversation between the past and the present mentioned by Eagan is the work of artist Bushra Junaid, who moved to St. John’s from Montreal as a baby. The daughter of a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father, Junaid said her experience growing up in the province in the 1970s, where she always the only Black child in the room, was not like most.
“All of my formative years, my schooling and everything, took place in St. John’s,” she said. “It’s very much shaped my current preoccupation.”
Her interest in history, identity and representation led her to making “Two Pretty Girls…,” which used an archival photograph of Caribbean sugarcane workers from 1903 with text from advertisements for sugar, molasses and rum from archived copies of The Evening Telegram collaged over the women’s clothing.
In her essay “Of Saltfish and Molasses” published in “Future Possible,” she described the work as “(allowing) me to place these women and their labour within the broader historical context of the international trade in commodities that underpinned Caribbean slavery and its afterlife.”
It’s a direct connection between Newfoundland and people in the Caribbean, a historical line not often drawn through the context of the transatlantic slave trade, but one she knows personally through the stories told by her mother, Adassa, about their ancestor, Sisa, who “as a teenager, survived the horrors of the Middle Passage, enduring the voyage from West Africa to Jamaica in the hold of a slave ship (Junaid).”
A book like “Future Possible” allows people to interpret themselves and their past, present and future, Junaid says.
“I appreciate the ways in which they really worked to make it as broad and diverse as possible,” she said. “It’s also striving to tell the Indigenous history of the place, the European settler history … and then also looking for … non-Western backgrounds such as myself. It’s enriching.”
What shapes us
St. John’s writer Lisa Moore contributed an essay called “Five Specimens from Another Time” that weaves together moments from her own life, the province’s history and current realities and the art that has inspired her over the years.
“It’s really interesting to me to see all this work of people that I’ve written about in the past and whose work influenced me, even in my writing of fiction, and then newer artists,” Moore said. “I just think that the book is a total gift.”
With such a rich cultural history ready to be written, she imagines “Future Possible” is just the first of what could be many books about art in the province now that the “ice is cracked.”
“The writers that (Eagan) has chosen to write here are also really exciting critics from all over the province, talking about all kind of different periods in art history,” she said.
As time passes, the meaning of the works in the book becomes richer, she said.
Mary Pratt’s 1974 “Cod Fillets on Tin Foil” and Scott Goudie’s 1991 “Muskrat Falls,” for instance, are two images with seemingly straightforward and simple subject matter. But any viewer looking now, who is aware of the cod moratorium and the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam, would find it difficult to see and interpret these images outside of those contexts.
“Artists, writers, filmmakers … they’re keen observers of culture and the moment that we live in,” Moore said. “They present things that are intangible like the feeling of a moment, or the culmination of social, political and esthetic powers that come together at a given time and shape us.”
“Future Possible: An Art History of Newfoundland and Labrador” is available online and in stores.
Parrott Art Gallery goes virtual to help flatten the curve – The Kingston Whig-Standard
Feeling stir crazy because of COVID and the latest lock-down? Take a virtual trip to Morocco!
On Wednesday, April 14 at 2:30 p.m., the Parrott Gallery will host Lola Reid Allin’s Armchair Traveler online presentation: “Morocco: Sea, Sand and Summit”. Allin is an accomplished photographer, pilot, writer and speaker. Travel with her through the land of dramatic contrast and hidden jewels, busy markets and medieval cities, and enjoy some virtual sun.
For more information and to register for this free online event, please visit bellevillelibrary.ca/armchair-traveller.php. The Armchair Traveller Morocco photography exhibit is also available to view through the Parrott Gallery website until mid-May.
Even though our gallery is currently closed to the public, our exhibitions are all available to view online. Sam Sakr’s show “The Housing Project” is certain to bring a smile to your face. His collection of mixed media artwork will take you to a playful land of fantastical creatures that inhabit imaginary, stylized cityscapes. If your spirit needs uplifting, you need to see to see this show. I hope that everyone will be able to view Sakr’s work both online and then in our gallery after the lock-down ends in May. Without a doubt, it will be worth the wait to see it again in-person when we re-open.
Another exhibition that you can currently visit on the Parrott Gallery website is the group show “Spring Sentiments: a Reflection of Art in Isolation”. This was a collaborative effort by the 39 artists who submitted their work, our staff who put the show together in the gallery and online, and our guest curator Jessica Turner. We are thrilled that Jessica was able to transcribe her experience with this show into a final paper for her Curatorial Studies BFA degree at OCADU.
The fact that we have had to close our doors just as this show was opening is a sad reflection of the theme as the audience must now reflect on this artwork at home, in isolation. The up-side to viewing this exhibition online is that one can read the artist statements that accompany the work and get a more in depth view of the artists’ perspectives. We encourage viewers to support our artists by sending in their comments and to vote for their favourites in the show by following the appropriate link on the webpage.
When you can’t come in to our building, the Parrott Gallery will bring the artwork to you. And then when the sun and flowers come out in May, and when it is safe to return to our gallery on the third floor of the Belleville Public Library, we hope to see you all again.
For questions about our online talk, our shows, or to purchase any of the artwork please call us at 613-968-6731 x 2040 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wendy Rayson-Kerr is the Acting Curator at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery.
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