Nunavut art from Baker Lake featured at WAG

“We may admire the intricate skills of the artists”

At the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Nov. 30, Jean Simailak, Piita Irniq and Darlene Wight, the WAG’s curator of Inuit Art and curator of the exhibition, Mary Yuusipik Singaqti: Back River Memories, together for the public opening for the exhibition, where Simailak and Irniq performed. “Sam Tutanuak also came to sing ‘modern Inuit songs.’ We all had fun showing off Inuit art. We must do more! I am pretty sure we had close to 400 to 500 people who came to the event,” Irniq said. “We just had a great time.” (PHOTO COURTESY OF PIITA IRNIQ)

By Jane George

If you’re in Winnipeg, make sure you stop by the Winnipeg Art Gallery to take in its new exhibitions of wall hangings, drawings and carvings from Baker Lake.

One of the two new exhibitions, now open to the public, displays the skill and artistry of the late, talented Mary Yuusipik Singaqti.

At the WAG, this wall hanging–Summer Scenes from 1992—by Mary Yuusipik Singaqti. (IMAGE COURTESY OF THE WAG)

Born in the Back River area north of Baker Lake, Singaqti was best known for her wall hangings and carvings.

But Winnipeg Art Gallery Curator of Inuit Art, Darlene Coward Wight, later discovered a collection of Singati’s coloured-pencil drawings.

“In December 2014 I visited Yuusipik in her Baker Lake home to hear and record the stories she depicts in her art works, which you can see at the WAG.

“They are panoramas filled with details from the life of her inland Utkuhiksalingmiut Inuit, in the most remote region of the Canadian Arctic.

“Yuusipik explained each drawing in detail and revealed a fascinating life of both happiness and extreme hardship,” said Wight, the WAG’s curator of Inuit Art and curator of the exhibition, Mary Yuusipik Singaqti: Back River Memories

Some of Singaqti’s detailed pieces, including 26 drawings, are featured in the new exhibition, Mary Yuusipik Singaqti: Back River Memories, which runs until March 10.

The WAG exhibition includes this drawing by Mary Yuusipik Singaqti called Spring on the Land. (IMAGE COURTESY OF THE WAG)

Singaqti, who died in 2017 at the age of 81, belonged to the last generation of Inuit to experience the inland nomadic way of life, the WAG said in a news release.

About her artistic motivation, Singaqti said, “I want the younger generation to know about me, how we used to live [and] how life was before.”

Also at the WAG, you can see a second exhibition, Nivinngajuliaat from Baker Lake, curated by Krista Ulujuk Zawadski,  who is the curator of Inuit art for the Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collections.

This exhibition brings together wall hangings by nine artists, most of whom are women.

The nivinngajuliaat, or “wall hangings,” in Inuktitut, include work by Singaqti’s mother, the renowned Jessie Oonark, whose whose wall hangings, prints and drawings are in major collections including the National Gallery of Canada.

Also included in the WAG’s exhibition, Nivinngajuliaat from Baker Lake, is this wall-hanging by Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq called Good and Evil from 1992. (IMAGE COURTESY OF THE WAG)

Featured artists also include Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq, Naomi Ityi, Victoria Mamnguqsualuk Kayuryuk, Miriam Qiyuk, Jimmy Taipanak, Winnie Tatya and Marion Tuu’luuq.

“With Baker Lake’s long history of art production, it is refreshing to see these works pulled from the vaults so that we may admire the intricate skills of the artists and perhaps be drawn into the stories the artist tells in each piece.

“Further, coordinating this exhibition is a great example of the partnership created between the Government of Nunavut and the WAG,” Zawadski said in the release.

The two exhibitions held a free public opening Nov. 30.

Plans are underway at the WAG, which holds the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world, to build a 3,700-square-metre, $65-million Inuit art centre adjacent to the gallery in downtown Winnipeg, just a short walk from the Manitoba legislative building..

The Inuit art centre will serve as the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world, with much of the collection from Nunavut.

As part of a deal struck in 2015, the governments of Nunavut and Manitoba agreed to spend $1 million to move more than 7,000 pieces of Inuit art—much of which have been in storage for years—to the gallery.

Those pieces will eventually be returned to Nunavut if and when the territory is able to build its own heritage centre, possibly in Iqaluit.

In the meantime, plans are underway to construct a new building featuring a massive glass atrium, where a three-storey transparent vault will showcase 7,500 Inuit carvings.

The centre’s theatre is being designed to feature live performers, educators, speakers and elders.

If all goes well, the centre will open in 2020, in time for Manitoba’s 150th birthday.


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