The inaugural exhibition at new Inuit art center in Qaumajuq aims to broaden the way visitors to the Winnipeg Art Gallery – and in particular the way Inuit – view Inuit art.
After delays due to COVID-19 public health measures, the gallery is moving forward with the opening on March 27 of the INUA, an exhibition featuring works by 90 Inuit artists, spanning generations.
“When people walk into Qaumajuq and imagine their own work here, we will see some dramatic changes,” Senior Curator Heather Igloliorte said in a recent virtual discussion on Qaumajuq.
INUA means spirit, or life force, and also means Inuit Nunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut, or Inuit advancing together.
The name is meant to reflect Qaumajuq’s role as a place of inspiration for Inuit from across Inuit Nunangat, Igloliorte said.
INUA will be part of history, she said, because “it shows the work of our ancestors, but goes into the present.”
In the 3,716 square meter space – about the size of two hockey rinks – are on display commissioned and loaned pieces as well as works from the gallery’s 13,000-piece Inuit art collection and the gallery’s collection. ‘Government of Nunavut artwork, now at the WAG for custody.
INUA’s oldest work of art happens to be a carved walrus bone piece, made 60 years ago by Victor Sammurtok, Zawadski’s great-grandfather.
Zawadski told Nunatsiaq News that one of his INUA favorites includes a wall hanging by Fanny Avatituq from Baker Lake.
The wall hanging features animals and tools, and says “Nunavut” in syllabic at the top, then again in English at the bottom. Both mentions are there to remind Inuit of their home, Avatituq told Zawadski.
Another Zawadski favorite: a dress by designer Maata (Martha) Kyak with brightly colored sealskin flowers.
“She wanted to shed light on this idea that our culture is alive, flourishing and prosperous,” Zawadski said. “People think of the white and empty North, but it is not.”
INUA also includes a poem by Siku Allooloo, an artist now based in Whitehorse.
The sealskin letters, inspired by the legend of Sedna, are meant to “feed the spirit of the Inuit,” she said, “especially others like me who find themselves displaced from their families and of their homeland ”.
COVID-19 has an impact on INUA
Organizing the INUA during the pandemic meant that conservatives had found virtual ways to work together, Zawadski said.
It also changed the creative process for Julie Grenier and Beatrice Deer, two Nunavimmiut from Montreal who were invited to create an amauti for the exhibition.
The duo had previously created an amauti for the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.
Grenier and Deer started working on their design, but then, “COVID came along, 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 has been taken out, but we’re really happy with it,” Grenier said.
The INUA exhibition will continue until December 19.
On March 22, there is an Inuit, Métis and First Nations “Welcome Day”, during which Aboriginals will be welcomed into the building free of charge. Tickets are available on wag.ca.