• Feature

Centring Inuit Perspectives and Culture in INUA’s Exhibition Design

Mar 31, 2021
by IAQ

How can traditional knowledge be better translated through architecture and environmental design to create an Inuit-led approach to the built world? This is the central question Nicole Luke, Research Assistant in Exhibition Design with the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq has been working to answer. For Luke, who is collaborating on the exhibition design for the inaugural show INUA, centring Inuit perspectives, cultural values and art leads the way.

A Master’s of Architecture student at the University of Manitoba, Luke has been investigating why southern thinking is often applied in a northern context and how Inuit knowledge within architectural spaces as well as Indigenous perspectives on sustainability might be better applied to the built world in Canada’s Arctic. “The built environment is a physical embodiment of values and culture,” she says. 

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(L) Tivi Paningajak Head of Tattooed Woman (1975) Stone 27 × 20 × 15.8 cm (R) Selected sketches by Nicole Luke, 2020
Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery (L) Photo Ernest Mayer

Although her early years were spent between Igluligaarjuk (Chesterfield Inlet) and Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet), NU, as well as Yellowknife, NT, Luke has been based in Winnipeg, MB, since the age of 8. Starting the following year, however, Luke spent many of her summers in Igluligaarjuk and Kangiqliniq—experiences she describes as ‘culture shock’. That first summer “changed my perspective,” explains Luke. “It made me aware of my position in southern Canada and allowed me to see the North in a completely new way.” 

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(L) Selected sketches by Nicole Luke, 2020 (R) Andrew Qappik Spring Seals (1993) Stencil 34.4 × 56.2 cm
Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery (R) Photo Leif Norman 

An avid student in both art and science, Luke sees environmental design, the focus of her undergraduate degree, as “the best of both worlds.” A focus on sustainability, innovation and ingenuity is similarly the core of Luke’s approach to her work with Qaumajuq’s curatorial and exhibition design teams. “I started by researching specific Arctic iconography. I looked at snow drifts and ice breaks and their shapes as well as traditional tattoo designs for ideas about form and pattern. I researched clothing, the curvatures of the amautiit, and thought about how to take those elements and make them applicable to exhibition design.” Luke hopes this project is the first of many that centres Inuit cultural values and perspectives. “There is almost no Inuit representation in architecture,” she explains. 

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(L) Unidentified artist Amautik (detail) (c. 1995) Wool duffel, glass beads, nylon fringe, cotton ribbon, cotton thread and felt 150 × 90 cm (M) Selected sketches by Nicole Luke, 2020 (R) Luke Anguhadluq Woman (1972) Coloured pencil and graphite 66.1 × 50.8 cm
Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery (L) Photo Ernest Mayer (R) Photo Leif Norman 

We were curious to get a look at Luke’s design thinking, so we asked her to share some pages from her sketchbook. The sketches show how her approach to exhibition design has been shaped by the work of Inuit artists in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s collection. 


This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly. It was sponsored by the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

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