Agnes Etherington Art Centre: Picturing Arctic Modernity
Picturing Arctic Modernity:
North Baffin Drawings from 1964 brings together drawings created in the North Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island) communities of Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) and Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay) within the span of three months of that year. All are drawn from the collection of former West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative manager and qallunaat Terry Ryan and are now part of the Canadian Museum of History. Each delicately rendered graphite drawing recounts a specific story; however, the tight curation of the pieces does not lend itself to experiencing the richness contained in these personal narratives, nor does it allow the works adequate breathing room on the walls. Rather than highlighting the unique vantage of each individual work, Picturing Arctic Modernity instead emphasizes the process through which the collection came to be.
Despite the strength of the works on view, my attention was primarily occupied by the uses of language, both oral and textual, throughout the exhibition. The space is enhanced with videos
and QR codes that bring the voices of Inuit elders and community members into the gallery in real time. Although instrumental to the imbedding of Inuit voices into the exhibition, these codes will likely prove problematic as an interpretive method when the exhibition travels to northern locations with restricted access to broadband.1 Though included, Inuktut was the last language presented in all texts, while Canada’s two colonial languages, English and French, were introduced first. In considering decolonial practices within museum spaces, we must necessarily pay close attention to the language that is emphasized. By placing English first, a curator is privileging that voice, over the language of those that created the works themselves.
I believe we are beyond what Lee-Ann Martin has termed soft inclusion, whereby Indigenous peoples are included only on surface levels in the spaces where they are represented.2 What is required now is hard inclusion, whereby Indigenous peoples work in key roles in institutional spaces where our representation and lives are concerned; this type of inclusion is crucial when thinking through how Indigenous voices are presented today.
Hard inclusion necessitates that Indigenous communities are fully integrated in their portrayal. Although curator Norman Vorano’s detailed community- based research is well documented, I left Picturing
Arctic Modernity with questions as to the specifics of this process and of how the exhibition came to be. How was the input of the communities gathered and what questions were posed? Did they have a say in the exhibition’s overall organization or were they asked solely to respond to the works? My hope is that as this exhibition travels and evolves and that the individual narratives captured in these works are given their rightful space and can continue to amass their own stories.
Videos and QR codes bring the voices of Inuit elders and community members into the gallery in real time.