At the entrance to SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut, The George River Herd (1996) is displayed under glass. Placed low, it allows the viewer an aerial perspective of the animals caught in mid-action. Delicate and detailed, each caribou is carved in pale wood—some young and tiny, some broad and burly, withlanky teenagers in between. It is clear from artist Chesley Flowers’ (1916-1998) precise composition that this group moves as one unit. It is also clear that this work is meant to be displayed in this environment; it was built to sit on a plinth, in a museum, and the result is incredibly effective.
Curated by Dr. Heather Igloliorte, SakKijâjuk is the first nationally touring exhibition of Inuit art from Nunatsiavut. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue detail how art from the region has been ignored, dismissed, debated, bought, sold and displayed since first contact with Europeans, usually by anyone but Inuit themselves. The challenge and responsibility of this history is captured in the thoughtful organization of exhibition. The gallery spans four generations of artists from 1949 to the present day—Elders, Trailblazers, Fire Keepers and The Next Generation—a structure that emphasizes change, energy and survival.
Beyond Flowers’ herd, a tall display case contains three jackets—an embroidered wool jacket by Susannah Igloliorte (1917-1992), a woven amauti (woman’s parka) in shades of blue by Chantelle Andersen and a lush, sealskin jacket by Sophie Pamak. Each is beautifully crafted and layered with narrative through the materials, imagery and techniques employed by each artist. However, displayed on anonymous human forms behind glass, they denote both a presence and an absence—of the women who created them, of those who did or might still wear them and of the culture they represent. It is a curatorial choice that engages with the sometimes problematic relationships between artists and the institutions in which they are represented.
Michael Massie (b.1962 Happy Valley – Goose Bay), Grandfather I Have Something to Tell You (2004) Anhydrite, bone, Birdseye maple, mahogany and ebony, 43.8 x 24.1 x 30.5 cm THE ROOMS PROVINCIAL ART GALLERY COLLECTION
The exhibition is incredibly dense, incorporating a wide variety of practices across more than 80 pieces. With annotated felt tip pen drawings mounted on file folders labeled with terms like “Festive Dress” and “Traditional Foods”, Josephina Kalleo (1920-1993), in Elders, documents and communicates as clearly as possible the world around her, while Shirley Moorhouse (Trailblazers) establishes a universe all her own through wall hangings that depict night skies and oceans teaming with life, rendered in painterly gestures of leather, fabric and thread. Heather Campbell’s drawing 7th Generation Inuit Community, included in Fire Keepers, offers a vision of a future Rigolet, lush and green due to global warming, where the community has adapted with wind power and greenhouses under glass domes. In The Next Generation section, artist Ryan Winters takes a cinematic approach to documenting the realities of everyday life.
In her catalogue essay, Jenna Joyce Broomfield writes of this exhibition as an act of self representation. Often connected with political self-governance, it is poignant to view this term in the context of material culture. This exhibition marks a significant break with existing narrative. Multifaceted and carefully considered, it sheds light on a world of creative practices that can only begin to be explored here.
This Review originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Inuit Art Quarterly.