Agnes Ether­ing­ton Art Cen­tre: Pic­tur­ing Arc­tic Moder­nity

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - Camille Usher

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.

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