Art Gallery of Ontario purchases hand-sewn textile by Nunavik artist
Piece inspired by beadwork on Inuit women’s clothing, says Niap
An intricate beaded tapestry hand-sewn by an artist from Kuujjuaq has been acquired by the Art Gallery of Ontario, the museum announced this week.
“What’s beautiful is that while I was working on the piece, I was envisioning it being in a very good home and envisioning my piece to be somewhere where people can view it,” Niap said of learning her work would be in the AGO.
“Because it did take an enormous amount of time and love and frustration,” she added with a laugh.
The detailed wall-hanging comes from the exhibition Piqutiapiit, and is inspired by beaded decorations called savviqutik on the front of Inuit women’s amautis. The museum purchased the piece alongside works by Inuvialuk artist Kablusiak and Mi’kmaq artist Ursula Johnson.
Niap, whose full name is Nancy Saunders, created the piece during her residency at Montreal’s McCord Stewart Museum earlier this year.
The Inuktitut word Piqutiapiit, spoken by Inuit on the Hudson Bay coast, is a way to say “precious belongings.”
Her exhibition draws on that meaning, presenting clothing and simple tools like ulus, needles and thimbles from Inuit women as a way to celebrate their creativity and ingenuity.
“It comes from the idea that I had access to all of these artifacts that were, in the past, somebody’s precious belongings, like the needle casings and needles,” Niap said.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is the approximately 1.8-metre-long tapestry acquired by the AGO. It incorporates mixed materials like beading, leather, caribou skin, and beluga teeth.
Making it took six months and a few extra helping hands, Niap said, specifically from her cousin, Eva Saunders.
“I was struggling a bit, and she came with her sewing machine and she came and helped me with some important parts of the piece,” Niap said.
Niap, who recently made her stage debut at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, said she’s grateful for the successes she’s had in the art world.
“When you work on pieces that take such a long time, you envision, ‘Where is this piece gonna go? Who will want it?’” she said.
“To have the AGO acquire it is just a really good feeling.”