The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new centre for Inuit art, Qaumajuq, will open to the public in two days on March 27, 2021. The 27th marks not just the opening of a centre almost a decade in the making, but also Qaumajuq’s inaugural exhibition, INUA, curated by an all-Inuit team and featuring a diverse range of old and contemporary works woven together across mediums.
The art on display in INUA celebrates the variety of work produced by Inuit artists over the last 80 years, set alongside new works commissioned from contemporary creators. Some of the notable new commissions include a sealskin arnauti produced by Beatrice Deer and Julie Grenier, an oversized faux sealskin rug made by Couzyn van Heuvelen and a disc number self-portrait by Bill Nasogaluak.
Qilak, the main Inuit gallery at Qaumajuq Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery Photo Lindsay Reid
Glenn Gear, Zacharias Kunuk and Lindsay McIntyre all took advantage of the available floor space (the Qilak gallery, where INUA is staged, is approximately 8,000 square feet, or almost three tennis courts in size) to produce large-scale, immersive experiences visitors can walk into for the exhibition. Gear created Iluani/Silami (it’s full of stars) (2021), a sea can (or storage container) painted inside with scenes from a Nunatsiavut myth about the creation of the northern lights. Kunuk made a life-size reproduction of his hunting cabin; instead of being lined with weapons, four big-screen TVs on the wall juxtapose shots of everyday life from the filmmaker’s home in Igloolik, NU, with video from a public hearing about the Mary River mine, an iron-ore mine on Baffin Island looking to expand.
Glenn Gear Iluani/Silami (it’s full of stars) (2021) Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery
McIntyre’s work documents the life of her uncle Kiviaq, the first Inuit lawyer, who successfully fought government agencies and the Law Society of Alberta to have his name changed to Kiviaq from David Ward, the name his white stepfather gave him. McIntyre installed a replica of a typical 1950s and 1960s living room decorated with ephemera from Kiviaq’s life. Included on one of the walls is the law-society certificate bearing Kiviaq’s name.
Artists Bronson Jacque, Martha (Maata) Kyak, Shirley Moorhouse, Allison Akootchook Warden, Fanny Avatituq and Maya Sialuk Jacobsen were also commissioned to produce work for the exhibition.
Other notable pieces in INUA include a salon-style display of wall hangings featuring pieces from Jessie Oonark, Jessie Kenalogak, Mary Yuusipik Singaqti and more from the WAG and Government of Nunavut Collections. Darcie Bernhardt’s painting Jijuu Playing Bingo (2018), Jessie Tungilik’s Seal Skin Spacesuit (2019), Elisapee Ishulutaq’s mural Yesterday and Today (2014) and a lifesize motorcycle with sidecar named Iqaluullamiluuq (First Mermaid) that can maneuver on the land (2016), a collaboration between Mattiusi Iyaituk and Quebecois ironwork artist Etienne Guay, also feature.
Elisapee Ishulutaq Yesterday and Today (2014) Oil stick, and graphite on paper Courtesy WINNIPEG ART GALLERY
Exhibition curators Dr. Heather Igloliorte (who is also co-chair of the WAG’s Indigenous Advisory Circle and President of the Inuit Art Foundation’s Board of Directors), Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Kablusiak and asinnajaq collectively represent the four regions of Inuit Nunangat, and chose the exhibition’s title, INUA, for its dual meanings both as the concept of spirit/life force used throughout the circumpolar world and as an acronym for Inuit Nunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut (or “Inuit Moving Forward Together”), articulating their collective vision for Qaumajuq as a site where Inuit can gather, share, be inspired by the past and create new pathways forward for Inuit art.
It was “really important to bring Inuit into the spaces and give them the opportunity to represent their own work,” said Igloliorte during a press conference on March 11th about the importance of having Inuit curators and representation from across Inuit Nunangat for this exhibition.
Each of the curators has a personal tie to the work in the exhibition through the art of one of their relatives or ancestors, to solidify the vision of a “grand contemporary art exhibition in the art of our ancestors,” Igloliorte continued.
Narrowing down their choices for INUA was a mammoth task for the curators—not only was the sizeable collection at the WAG available, but the team also secured loans from other institutions.
INUA installation in progress at Qaumajuq, the Inuit art centre. (From Left) Jocelyn Piirainen, asinnajaq, Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, and Kablusiak Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery Photo Calvin Lee Joseph
It was a “sharing of ideas and building towards something that felt like the right combination,” said Igloliorte when asked about their selections. The curators worked from a process grounded in Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (sometimes referred to as Inuit traditional knowledge, or simply as IQ) to determine how they would proceed, emphasizing collaborative decision-making.
The team began by presenting artworks and artists they were excited about to one another, before finding communal lines between them. “It was a slow process,” added Igloliorte. The curators were particularly concerned about having parity between historic and contemporary work, a balance of media, geography, gender and representation of LGBTQ+ artists. They also wanted to think outside of national borders to Inuit Nunaat as a whole, and so included works from Greenlandic and Alaskan artists.
What they ultimately chose was a mix that “speaks to where we come from, what we’re grounded in as Inuit,” said Igloliorte, in an exhibition that puts the progress of the past with the work of the present and the possibilities of the future together in one space.
WAG-Qaumajuq Northern Lights Projections Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery
Due to the size of the physical space, Qaumajuq will be welcoming visitors in person to INUA on March 27 with timed ticketing and additional safety measures in place. In its first year, INUA will also feature a host of virtual and in-person activities, including a series of artist talks hosted by the curators, youth-oriented educational activities and self-guided virtual tours of the exhibition. As part of the larger vision for Qaumajuq’s accessibility to northern audiences, the WAG is also exploring the ways that INUA can travel to the North when it closes at Qaumajuq in December 2021.
Celebrations to open the new exhibition and building will take place virtually at 6:30 PM CT on March 25 and 26.
Watch this space for future interviews with INUA artists and curators, as well as analysis of Qaumajuq as a whole.
Learn More About INUA and Qaumajuq