An untitled work by Inuk sculptor Karoo Ashevak, from approximately1973 and nicknamed the Drum Beater, is part of an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. (Photo courtesy Royal Ontario Museum)

Inuit music, sculpture come together at museum exhibit

Exhibit features archival video footage and music recordings along with contemporary work

By Jorge Antunes

Canada’s largest museum is showcasing Inuit throat singing and drum dancing.

Called Tusarnitut! Music Born of the Cold, the exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto features Inuit sculptures, prints, artwork and music from the 1950s to the present.

The exhibit includes carvings, etchings and prints that illustrate the way drum dances and throat singing are performed, curator Jean-Jacques Nattiez, an ethnomusicologist and professor emeritus at University of Montreal, said in an interview.

Tusarnitut! – which means “sounds that please the ear” in Inuktitut – was adapted from an original exhibition conceived by Nattiez and Lisa Qiluqqi Koperqualuk, curator and mediator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where the exhibit was organized.

Nattiez began his career in ethnomusicology — studying music from the cultural and social viewpoint of the people who make it — at the University of Montreal in 1972.

His work was in music analysis, but he didn’t want to see his theories applied only to classical western music like Mozart or Wagner, which he worked on in the past.

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He also wanted to analyze “autochthonous music,” or music that is completely unique to an Indigenous culture.

“I was utterly fascinated by the throat songs of the Inuit,” Nattiez said.

“So I built a research group in the 1970s with three of my former students and [this] became the starting point of my interest in Inuit music.”

Nattiez said he and his team spent five or six years visiting the North, making recordings and asking questions of musicians so they could study the music in their context.

His work also led him to Inuit drum dances, which are also featured in the exhibit.

The exhibit features 50 recordings of throat singing and archival video recordings of drum dances.

Nattiez noted the exhibition would not have been possible without all the people involved, and in particular Koperqualuk, who is Inuk and the current president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council for Canada.

While the exhibit spotlights traditional Inuit music, which has always been Nattiez’s area of interest, there is a nod to the newer forms being produced by artists such as Tanya Tagaq, who he calls the “the most famous singer of this music today.”

The exhibit is at the Royal Ontario Museum until Sept. 24.




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