In advance of its opening at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), the Inuit art centre was formally given its name by the WAG’s Indigenous Advisory Circle: Qaumajuq, an Inuktitut word meaning “it is bright, it is lit.”
“Light was quickly embraced by the Indigenous Advisory Circle,” says WAG Director and CEO Dr. Stephen Borys about the naming process. “It sent a wave through the project,” and the Circle continued to name every part of the building with Indigenous words signifying light, exposure, transparency and hope. The Circle also gave the WAG itself an Anishinaabemowin name, Biindigin Biwaasaeyaah—meaning “the dawn of light is coming” —which “reflects its location on Treaty 1 territory.” To learn more about the naming process, we spoke with the Indigenous Advisory Circle’s co-chairs Dr. Heather Igloliorte and Dr. Julie Nagam.
Michael Angutituak Group on Kudlik (1967) Clay 18.8 × 48.4 × 26 cm Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery Photo Ernest Mayer
INUIT ART QUARTERLY: How, and why, did the Indigenous Advisory Circle form at the WAG?
DR. HEATHER IGLOLIORTE AND DR. JULIE NAGAM: There was a strong need for an Indigenous Advisory Circle with the creation of the new [Inuit art centre] and the need for decolonization. In 2017, we became the official co-chairs and created the Circle with WAG staff and Indigenous representation from Manitoba and Inuit Nunangat.
Syollie Amituk Kudlik, Ayarak and Kamik (1977) Printmaker Leah Qumaluk Stonecut 39.2 × 49.9 cm Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery Photo Ernest Mayer
IAQ: What were the goals of this naming process?
HI AND JN: The “Inuit art centre” as a name was always a placeholder. The Circle discussed how to Indigenize the gallery and create a feeling that it was our space and decided Indigenous language was key. We are thrilled not only to name the two buildings, but also to name galleries, gathering spaces and educational spaces in both buildings.
We wanted to have representation from the Indigenous languages of Manitoba and Inuit Nunangat to showcase the breadth of knowledge keepers that represent the relationship to the collection and the building. We are excited about the impact of this naming and the continuing decolonization taking place at museums and galleries within Canada and abroad.
Unidentified artist Mother with Child Tending Qulliq (1970) Stone and ivory 9 × 6 × 12.5 cm Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery Photo Ernest Mayer
IAQ: What do you hope visitors take away from their experience of Qaumajuq?
HI AND JN: We hope that guests come away with a stronger understanding of the depth of various mediums and knowledge that the circumpolar region holds. We are excited to showcase Inuit creators working in every kind of artistic practice you could imagine. We are excited for visitors to be hosted in this incredible building that demonstrates collaboration between Inuit, First Nations and Métis people.
The WAG Indigenous Advisory Circle provides Indigenous leadership and counsel in the development and planning of WAG-Qaumajuq exhibitions, education, community outreach, partnerships and programming.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly. It was sponsored by the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
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