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Inuit Art at the 57th Venice Biennale

Feb 08, 2017
by IAQ

Kananginak Pootoogook, RCA (1935–2010) has been named as a participating artist in this years Venice Biennale, opening May 13, 2017. The late Kinngait (Cape Dorset) artist, known for his distinct figurative style and often humorous approach in both his graphic and sculptural works, is the first Inuit artist to be included in the fair.

Well known for his skillful and naturalistic portrayals of animal subjects, Pootoogook was attuned to social and cultural change in his community, evidenced by his iconic print The First Tourist (1992), the subject of our Last Look in the Winter 2016 issue of the IAQ dedicated to Photography, on newsstands now. “His intelligent eye is not overtly critical of Southerners and their ways; instead it finds the humour or incongruity in situations,” noted curator Ingo Hessel in his feature on the artist from 2010. “His depictions of people are inspired variously by autobiography, history, and pure imagination; they evoke the past and myth without being romantic.

Fellow Canadians 2016 Sobey Art Award winner Jeremy Shaw and multimedia artist Hajra Waheed join Pootoogook in the fairs central exhibition Viva Arte Viva while Vancouver artist Geoffrey Farmer presents work in the Canadian Pavilion. Curated by Christine Macel, chief curator of the Centre Pompidou, the International Art Exhibition, mounted across both the Arsenale and Central Pavilion of the Giardini, includes works from 120 artists hailing from over 55 countries. “Art is the most precious part of the human being. [It] is the favourite place for dreams and utopias, relationships with other human beings, with nature and cosmos, as well as with a spiritual dimension,” explains Mace in her curatorial statement. She goes on to note that Viva Arte Viva will provide a platform to rediscover “those who passed away too early or those who are unknown to the public despite the importance of their works.”

Pootoogook joins a handful of Indigenous artists from Canada who’ve had a presence at the Biennale. The first, Edward Poitras, was the representative for the Canadian Pavilion in 1995, followed by Rebecca Belmore in 2005. Jordan Bennett has produced two projects, an offsite project Caboto (2011) and Ice Fishing (2015), a collateral exhibition to the Biennale’s main programming developed by the Terra Nova Art Foundation.

On the occasion of Pootoogook’s passing, John Westren, Showroom Manager at Dorset Fine Arts, succinctly captured the artists’ unique legacy. “Kananginak perceived, recalled, and made into art those rare magical moments in human experience when ordinary events in nature and commonplace relationships among people are suddenly elevated and recognized by the heart and soul.”

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