Northern lights shine south in Toronto outdoor exhibit
“The best thing is when you can see artwork in the lights"
The only lights you can usually see when you look skyward in Canada’s largest city are those left on in office towers at night.
But until the end of May, people in Toronto can enjoy the northern lights and learn a bit of Inuit folklore right from the city’s downtown core.
A new installation by Dorset Fine Arts and TD Bank features a series of light boxes set up in a square in the city’s financial district, with each illustrating the light and movement of the aurora in green, blue and pink.
Each box represents a different artist from Cape Dorset, home to the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative and its art studios, who share their own family legends and personal experiences with the northern lights.
Dorset Fine Arts’ William Huffman interviewed about a dozen artists ahead of the exhibit.
Cape Dorset carver Taqialuk Nuna tells a true story about his grandfather when he was out with a hunting team.
“They were out on the land when it got very dark; there was no moon that night and the group lost their way,” reads Nuna’s story, written out on one light box.
“My grandfather finally stood up and started to whistle. Suddenly, the northern lights came down and were so bright, and they found their way back onto the trail.”
While the lights serve as a guide to some, they are also revered and even feared. There is a legend that whistling at the lights could prompt celestial spirits to attack Inuit below.
“When I was a boy, and the northern lights were showing, my elders would tell me not to whistle at them,” said Joemie Takapaungai, the assistant studio manager at the art co-operative.
“Otherwise the lights would come down and whack me on the head.”
Artist Ashoona Ashoona recalled her brother seeing the lights just 50 or 100 feet above him.
“He said they were so close he could hear them whistling and crackling,” she said.
But mostly, it’s the beauty of the aurora, or arsaniit, that strike its viewers—scenes that have been captured by Inuit artists in many forms.
“The best thing is when you can see artwork in the lights, the shapes and the animals,” said master lithography printmaker Niveaksie Quvianaqtuliaq.
“It was kind of weird when my artists friend Tim Pitsialuk passed away. There was a long line of lights that turned into a walrus. Tim always liked to draw walruses.”
The outdoor exhibit runs until May 30 at 55 King Street West in Toronto.