Big Inuit art exhibit set to welcome the world in Winnipeg
Qaumajuq centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery plans mainly virtual opening
The inaugural exhibition at the new Qaumajuq Inuit art centre aims to expand how visitors to the Winnipeg Art Gallery — and especially how Inuit — view Inuit art.
After delays due to COVID-19 public health measures, the gallery is moving ahead with its opening on March 27 of INUA, an exhibit featuring works from 90 Inuit artists, spanning generations.
“When people get into Qaumajuq and imagine their own work here, we will see dramatic changes,” said lead curator Heather Igloliorte in a recent virtual discussion about Qaumajuq.
INUA means spirit, or life force, and also stands for Inuit Nunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut, or Inuit Moving Forward Together.
The name is meant to reflect Qaumajuq’s role as a place to inspire Inuit from throughout Inuit Nunangat, said Igloliorte.
INUA will be history making, she said, because “it shows the work of our ancestors, but goes into the present.”
On display in the 3,716-square metre space — roughly the size of two hockey rinks — are commissioned pieces and loans as well as works from the gallery’s 13,000-piece collection of Inuit art and the Government of Nunavut’s fine-art collection, now at the WAG for safekeeping.
The oldest work of art in INUA happens to be a carved walrus bone piece crafted 60 years ago by Victor Sammurtok, Zawadski’s great-grandfather.
Zawadski told Nunatsiaq News that one of her INUA favourites includes a wall hanging by Fanny Avatituq of Baker Lake.
The wall hanging features animals and tools, and says “Nunavut” in syllabics on the top and then again in English on the bottom. The two mentions are there to remind Inuit about home, Avatituq told Zawadski.
Another favourite of Zawadski: a gown by designer Maata (Martha) Kyak with sealskin flowers in bright hues.
“She wanted to shed light on this idea that our culture is alive and flourishing and thriving,” Zawadski said. “People think of the white empty North — but it’s not.”
INUA also includes a poem by Siku Allooloo, an artist who is now based in Whitehorse.
The sealskin letters, inspired by the legend of Sedna, are intended “to feed the spirit of Inuit,” she said, “especially others like me, who find themselves displaced from family and homeland.”
COVID-19 impacts INUA
Organizing INUA during the pandemic meant the curators had had find virtual ways to work together, Zawadski said.
It also changed the creative process for Julie Grenier and Beatrice Deer, two Montreal-based Nunavimmiut who were asked to create an amauti for the exhibit.
The duo had previously created an amauti for the Museum of Man in Paris.
Grenier and Deer started to work on their design, but then, “COVID happened, and then it was like, ‘We can’t get together anymore,'” Grenier told Nunatsiaq News.
So Grenier worked on the front of the amauti and Deer sewed its back.
“The human element of the collaboration was taken out, but we are really happy with it,” Grenier said.
The INUA exhibit will continue until Dec. 19.
On March 22, there’s an Inuit, Métis and First Nations “Welcome Day,” during which Indigenous people will be welcomed into the building free of charge. Tickets are available at wag.ca.