Wanting to investigate and bear witness to the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic among Nunavimmiut, curators Janique Johnson-Lafleur and Olivia Thomassie commissioned 12 Nunavik artists to create work about their experiences over the last two years. The result, virtual exhibition ᓴᓇᓐᖑᐊᓂᑎᒍᑦ ᒪᑭᑕᖃᑎᒌᓐᓂᖅ | Sanannguanitigut Makitaqatigiinniq | Standing Together Through Art | Debout ensemble travers l’art, opened this March.
The IAQ’s Jessica MacDonald spoke to one of the featured artists, Prim (Pasa Mangiok), to hear what it was like to create work for a pandemic-inspired exhibition while in the midst of feeling the pandemic’s effects herself.
Jessica MacDonald: How did you get involved with the project?
Prim: My dad [Thomassie Mangiok] helped me get in contact with the project organizers. Once they gave me the opportunity, I took it right away with no hesitation. I was excited!
I haven't been in any other exhibitions before, but I have illustrated two pieces for Grilled Cheese magazine, and I’ve been involved with a project with my dad’s board game Nunami. I'm also working on another upcoming project by Kativik llisarniliriniq that has not yet been released, but soon will be.
JM: What was the process of working on the virtual exhibition like?
P: I would have liked it if we could have met in person, but I understand that we couldn't due to COVID. Also, all the artists are from all over Nunavik, which would make it a lot more complicated to try to fit [face-to-face meetings] into your schedule.
I did talk briefly with Mary Paningajak, who I'm distantly related to, when we were both in a virtual meeting—we talked for about an hour and they gave us an introduction of the project, but mostly the process was just me talking to Olivia and Janique. Even though we met online or on the phone, I didn't mind at all because I still understood what we had to do.
Prim Quarantine yourself. Wear a mask (2020) Digital drawing COURTESY AVATAQ CULTURAL INSTITUTE © the Artist
JM: I was particularly drawn in by the picture of the doctor shooting needles. It struck me as having a real action hero or superhero vibe. What was the inspiration?
P: I drew this two years ago; I was 17 at the time, and I saw doctors and nurses as heroes fighting the Coronavirus with the vaccine. The superhero vibe you’re getting from it is correct!
You are also going to see more artwork from me in the exhibition in due time—they’ll mostly be released one by one before the exhibition closes. I lost motivation for a year due to the burnout from high school. But now I'm finding time to create art, and I'm getting my motivation and inspiration back again. I want to create three to five more pieces, depending on my free time.
I've started making artwork for the exhibition based on my experience with COVID—I was never infected, so the art is really about what the pandemic made me feel and my perspective on the difference between living up north ,where you can go anywhere and being down south, where you're restricted and isolated.
It’s given me more appreciation for living up north because up north you have more freedom and less restrictions than you have here in the south.
Prim #Black Lives Matter (2020) Digital drawing COURTESY AVATAQ CULTURAL INSTITUTE © the Artist
JM: Although the exhibition is focused on the impact of COVID, two of your pieces feature fairly prominent messaging about the Black Lives Matter movement. What made you want to incorporate that message?
P: I originally wanted to incorporate all these elements that society is going through—the Black Lives Matter movement, the Indigenous movement and the Ukrainian war movement—to speak to what's happening while there's a pandemic. Yes, we're in a pandemic, but there's all these events going on along with it, which is making the situation worse. I wanted to spread awareness. The Black Lives Matter Movement is an important movement to this day, even if the big protests were two years ago. Creating these pieces is important to me because the exhibition is a permanent platform where I can put these art pieces online.
I see the exhibition as a permanent thing that anyone from anywhere can look at. I want to show people that there were important things going on in 2020–2021 that were as important as COVID.
ᓴᓇᓐᖑᐊᓂᑎᒍᑦ ᒪᑭᑕᖃᑎᒌᓐᓂᖅ | Sanannguanitigut Makitaqatigiinniq | Standing Together Through Art | Debout ensemble travers l’art is available from March 2022 to March 2023. To read curator Olivia Thomassie’s thoughts on the exhibition, pick up your copy of the Spring 2022 Inuit Art Quarterly, Break Up: Art in a Changing North.