A Night in Nu­natsi­avut

On Oc­to­ber 8, 2016, gen­er­a­tions of Inuit came to­gether to shine a light on a re­gion that has been ar­tis­ti­cally ig­nored

Canadian Art - - Contents - By Heather Camp­bell

On Oc­to­ber 8, 2016, gen­er­a­tions of Inuit came to­gether to shine a light on a re­gion that has been ar­tis­ti­cally ig­nored by Heather Camp­bell

One of my fond­est mem­o­ries is of sit­ting next to my grand­fa­ther by the heat of our old wood stove, as he carved tiny owls, martens and weasels out of wood. It was his first at­tempt at quit­ting his chain-smok­ing habit, and he needed some­thing to do with his hands. Af­ter­wards, he let me paint the thumb-sized carv­ings with colours from my chil­dren’s paint­box. He praised my work, of course, and I was im­mensely proud. I think we still have a cou­ple of those tucked away in our lit­tle match­box house in Rigo­let, Labrador. As I walked through the ex­hi­bi­tion “Sakki­jâjuk: Art and Craft from Nu­natsi­avut,” at the Rooms in St. John’s, it was al­most as if I was back there.

We had a few pieces of art hang­ing in our home, proudly dis­played along­side the em­broi­dered Bi­ble verses and tourist knick-knacks. Our com­mu­nity was full of artists: my Dad’s un­cle, who carved model dog-sled teams out of wood; doll mak­ers and grass sew­ers; an older lo­cal man who made hand-carved danc­ing dolls. We also had hooked rugs from the Gren­fell Mis­sion era, and were lucky enough to have a very well ex­e­cuted oil

Look­ing back on it now, the ball­point-pen draw­ing we had in our house ri­vals any­thing I’ve seen at the Na­tional Gallery of Canada. I can’t help but won­der how many artists and their works have been lost.

paint­ing by Maude Chaulk of my grand­fa­ther’s home set­tle­ment of Mulligan. I would stare at it quite of­ten, won­der­ing ex­actly how she cre­ated the grace­ful curves of the ever­green hills topped with cream-coloured cari­bou moss, so evoca­tive of that re­gion of Labrador.

We have one draw­ing in our house from the 1980s, and no one re­calls ex­actly who the artist is. It’s of an old “12 ski-doo,” care­fully ren­dered in ball­point pen. The mark-mak­ing was con­fi­dent, and the at­ten­tion to de­tail was mag­i­cal to my child’s mind. Look­ing back on it now, I am con­fi­dent it ri­vals any­thing I’ve seen at the Na­tional Gallery of Canada. I can’t help but won­der how many artists and their works have been lost from that artist’s gen­er­a­tion and those be­fore it.

I didn’t know much about the con­tem­po­rary Inuit art move­ment un­til I moved to Ot­tawa in 1997. The lack of Labrador Inuit art and artists was no­tice­able. I knew they ex­isted, so why wasn’t their art be­ing seen out­side of Labrador, and be­ing pro­moted in the lu­cra­tive mar­ket in Canada, the US and abroad? Since my days as cu­ra­to­rial as­sis­tant at In­dige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs Canada, I had dreamt of ways to en­rich Inuit art in Nu­natsi­avut, and truly in­tro­duce it to the rest of the world—to high­light its di­verse art­mak­ing, and unique In­dige­nous per­spec­tive. So when I first heard that Heather Iglo­liorte was cu­rat­ing “Sakki­jâjuk,” it was like my prayers had been an­swered.

I had at­tended an early ver­sion of the ex­hi­bi­tion in Happy Val­ley-goose Bay the year be­fore, and I was not pre­pared for just how awe-in­spir­ing it would be to see it again in a pro­fes­sional gallery set­ting. Open­ing night was packed—i ran into peo­ple I’ve known for years, like pho­tog­ra­pher Barry Pot­tle, who is also based in Ot­tawa, and John Ter­riak, who taught me to carve more than 20 years ago, for which I will al­ways be thank­ful. Ev­ery­one was in a jovial mood. The only tense mo­ment I wit­nessed was at the ex­pense of Dwight Ball, pre­mier of New­found­land and Labrador, who was giv­ing open­ing re­marks. While he was do­ing so, an at­tendee shouted out a plea to not poi­son the Labrador peo­ple, a com­ment in re­sponse to the han­dling of the Muskrat Falls hy­dro-elec­tric dam de­vel­op­ment that was mak­ing news at the time, in Oc­to­ber 2016. I ran into artist Billy Gau­thier a day or so later. Lit­tle did I know that the seeds had al­ready been planted for his head­line-mak­ing hunger strike to protest the de­vel­op­ment of the dam.

It is im­pos­si­ble to sep­a­rate the “Sakki­jâjuk” ex­hi­bi­tion from inuit Blanche, the Katin­gavik Inuit Arts Fes­ti­val and the Inuit Stud­ies Con­fer­ence, as they were all oc­cur­ring si­mul­ta­ne­ously. As part of inuit Blanche, I did a col­lab­o­ra­tive art project where mem­bers of the pub­lic were in­vited to paint onto a large can­vas I had pre­vi­ously pre­pared, and af­ter­ward I re­sponded to the paint they had added. Among those to drop by and take part were Danny Pot­tle, at the time an or­di­nary mem­ber for the Nu­natsi­avut Gov­ern­ment con­stituency of Canada, and Nel­son Graburn, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of so­cio­cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berkeley, among many oth­ers. Also hap­pen­ing at Har­bour­side Park were per­for­mances by the St. John’s Inuit Drum­ming Group, and Mark Iglo­liorte’s Ka­mu­tik Dogs Se­ries, where he drew por­traits of peo­ple’s dogs next to a ka­mu­tik, or Inuit dog sled. It was a truly in­cred­i­ble evening.

At the Rocket Room cafe the next day, I was able to get a bet­ter look at my com­pleted piece, which was hang­ing in the up­stairs meet­ing space, and I at­tended a live demon­stra­tion of tra­di­tional Inuit tat­too­ing by Marjorie Tah­bone. Later, I took my five-year-old daugh­ter to throat-sing­ing les­sons and demon­stra­tions by Jenna Broom­field from North West River, New­found­land, and Malaya Bishop from Iqaluit, Nu­navut, who to­gether form the duo Sila Singers.

I also gave a short talk about my art­work as part of the tour of the ex­hi­bi­tion, and en­joyed hav­ing that oneon-one con­nec­tion with the vis­i­tors and shar­ing a bit about my thought process and my paint­ing style. It was also great to hear fel­low artists speak more in-depth about their own work. Now that I live in Ot­tawa, it’s rare that I get to in­ter­act with other Nu­natsi­avut Inuit artists, so this was es­pe­cially in­spir­ing for me. To hear Mark Iglo­liorte talk about his paint­ing process was al­most sur­real, be­cause when I went to univer­sity in Cor­ner Brook, I was the only art stu­dent of Inuit des­cent that I knew of. To see a fel­low Nu­natsi­avut Inuk speak­ing about his ed­u­ca­tion, as well as his work ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers, made me re­al­ize how far we’ve come in the last 20 years.

I was so hon­oured when my work 7th Gen­er­a­tion Inuit Com­mu­nity (2015) was men­tioned in Cana­dian Art’s on­line piece on inuit Blanche. Mak­ing mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions with the viewer is what makes art pro­duc­tion so worth­while. I wish I could fully con­vey the sense of pride I felt, to see our Nu­natsi­avut Inuit art and cul­ture be­ing show­cased for other re­gions, and the gen­eral pub­lic of New­found­land and Labrador, as well as those vis­it­ing from all over the world for the Inuit Stud­ies Con­fer­ence. I look for­ward to see­ing the pro­found works of art that will be cre­ated as a re­sult of this in­spir­ing and his­to­ry­mak­ing era for Nu­natsi­avut Inuit art. Hav­ing my daugh­ter there to share in the ex­pe­ri­ence was also mean­ing­ful. I know she will have mem­o­ries of this trip that will last a lifetime, and I am cer­tain she will grow up with knowl­edge of and great pride in her Inuit ancestry. ■

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