On March 14, 2019, the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) in Manitoba announced Jocelyn Piirainen as their inaugural Assistant Curator of Inuit Art. Hailing from Ottawa, ON, Piirainen is the first Inuk in Canada to hold a lead curatorial position at a provincial museum.
“I am incredibly happy to be joining the Winnipeg Art Gallery team as Assistant Curator of Inuit Art," Piirainen says. "I am very much looking forward to working alongside the curatorial team at the gallery, as well as working with such an extensive collection of Inuit art."
Piirainen’s curatorial work has been featured at the Asinabka Film & Media Arts Festival, SAW Gallery in Ottawa and, most recently, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, ON where she was co-curator of the exhibition Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak in 2018.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Carleton University and has also studied at Algonquin College and the New York Institute of Photography. Her writing has been published in Canadian Geographic, Canadian Art and the forthcoming issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.
Piirainen’s new position—curating Inuit art exhibitions as well as working with the WAG education teams—will bring opportunities for urban Inuit like herself to connect to the traditions and land of their culture, through the work of contemporary and traditional artists. The position was created with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) via its Creating Knowing and Sharing, The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples program. The new role as ensures Inuit representation on the WAG curatorial management team and increases Indigenous leadership and agency, on the national path to Indigenization and reconciliation in the arts. In addition to Piirainen, arts-worker Lisa Charleyboy was hired as manager of Indigenous Initiatives.
“This partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) is part of a historic transformation happening at the Winnipeg Art Gallery,” Director and CEO of the WAG Dr. Stephen Borys stated. “In welcoming Lisa Charleyboy and Jocelyn Piirainen to our team, we are certain their expertise will help expand Indigenous outreach and programming in the lead-up to the 2020 opening of the WAG Inuit Art Centre and beyond.”
With over 13,000 works spanning from traditional to contemporary, the WAG currently holds in trust the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world. In addition 7,300 works are on long-term loan from the Government of Nunavut Collection. In 2020, the museum will open the much-anticipated Inuit Art Centre.
"With the construction underway of the Inuit Art Centre, it will be an exciting time leading up to its opening," Piirainen adds. "I hope to continue engaging the Indigenous community here in Winnipeg, as well as sharing the stories and visuals of these works with everyone.”
As both a contemporary artist and curator, Piirainen is poised to be an invaluable addition to the WAG curatorial team. She commenced work at the gallery on March 18, 2019.
Napatsi Folger is a Contributing Editor at Inuit Art Quarterly and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. She has written both fiction and non-fiction for publications such as Taddle Creek Magazine, Word Hoard, Puritan Magazine, The Walrus, Matrix Magazine, The Town Crier and published her first Young Adult novel Joy of Apex in 2012 with Inhabit Media.