Cana­dian and In­dige­nous Art: 1968 to Present

Na­tional Gallery of Canada

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Lind­say Nixon


I’m al­ways a lit­tle ner­vous when vis­it­ing in­sti­tu­tions like the Na­tional Gallery of Canada (NGC) to view sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tions that in­clude In­dige­nous art. I of­ten find my­self un­sat­is­fied, and some­times even en­raged, by the way In­dige­nous works are pre­sented in Canada’s ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions. Con­tex­tu­al­ized with ba­sic di­dac­tics that of­ten avoid delv­ing into com­plex sub­ject mat­ter, it would seem In­dige­nous artists are widely cu­rated for non-In­dige­nous au­di­ences. I was there­fore pleas­antly sur­prised with the thought­ful cu­ra­tion of Inuit work through­out the NGC’s re­hang of their con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian and In­dige­nous Art gal­leries. Still, I found my­self, as I of­ten do when look­ing at gal­leried col­lec­tions of Inuit art, crav­ing a new per­spec­tive that high­lights the rad­i­cally pro­gres­sive vi­sion of Inuit art that I know to be ex­per­i­men­tal, di­verse and flour­ish­ing, a reimag­ined and non-rei­fied Inuit art can­non com­plete with gen­der and sex­ual di­ver­sity. I found my­self won­der­ing, Why do we keep leav­ing Inuit art in the past, and what are the colo­nial im­pli­ca­tions of do­ing so? Many parts of the re­hang pro­vided chal­leng­ing work and cu­ra­tion. Manasie Ak­pali­apik’s whale­bone carv­ing Un­ti­tled (1991), for in­stance, wel­comes you in the first room of the show and draws a strong emo­tional re­sponse with its evoca­tive por­trayal of al­co­holism. Ak­pali­apik’s sculp­ture il­lus­trates the head of an Inuk dis­rupted by a bot­tle pro­trud­ing from their skull with a hand raised to their ex­as­per­ated face. The work is both con­fronta­tional, forc­ing view­ers to con­sider com­plex and em­bod­ied colo­nial af­fect, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­sid­er­ate and em­pa­thetic to Inuit kin. In a sim­i­lar vein, Wil­liam Noah’s draw­ing Evil Shaman Giv­ing Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis to In­no­cent Vic­tim (c. 1970) de­picts the on­set of a for­eign dis­ease, brought to the North by col­o­niz­ers, as an evil shaman. In­deed! I was ex­cited to find the in­te­gra­tion of the film Qag­giq (Gath­er­ing Place) (1989) by Zacharias Kunuk, OC, into a sec­tion com­prised of me­dia art. It was re­fresh­ing to see Kunuk’s work in­te­grated in the re­hang in such a way. Filmed inside an igloo, Kunuk’s video presents mo­ments of in­ti­macy, shar­ing and com­mu­nity care—even a ram­bunc­tious and light-hearted Iglul­ing­miut rit­ual of in­sult-hurl­ing—that shines a light into the homes and hearts of Inuit, hu­man­iz­ing Inuit com­mu­ni­ties to an of­ten oth­er­wise voyeuris­tic, com­mod­i­fy­ing and at times fetishis­tic set­tler au­di­ence. Inuit women are also well rep­re­sented in the re­hang, ex­hibit­ing work from the Cana­dian women’s art move­ment— Elis­apee Ishu­lu­taq, CM, Pit­se­o­lak Ashoona, OC, RCA (c. 1904–1983), He­len Kal­vak, CM (1901–1984), Na­pachie Pootoo­gook (1938–2002), Jessie Oonark, OC, RCA (1906–1985) and Keno­juak Ashe­vak, CC, ON, RCA (1927–2013), to name a few— a re­fresh­ing ap­proach, con­sid­er­ing that the per­va­sive nar­ra­tive of Cana­dian fem­i­nist art has long been pre­dom­i­nated by white women. The cu­ra­tors have boldly re­con­tex­tu­al­ized em­bod­ied fem­i­nist art, pop­u­lar­ized in the 1970s and on­wards, as

The cu­ra­tors have boldly re­con­tex­tu­al­ized em­bod­ied fem­i­nist art, pop­u­lar­ized in the 1970s and on­wards. A lin­eage of Inuit wom­an­ism emerges, de­rived from the body and vi­su­al­iz­ing the beau­ti­ful present of Inuit women’s com­mu­ni­ties.

a space not solely for white women artists. A lin­eage of Inuit wom­an­ism emerges, de­rived from the body and vi­su­al­iz­ing the beau­ti­ful pres­ence of Inuit women’s com­mu­ni­ties. Oviloo Tun­nil­lie’s (1949–2014) ser­pen­ti­nite Skier (1993), with its sexy Ly­cra-clad thighs and but­tocks, stood out for me—femme power, if you will. Inuit art has long been pushed to the mar­gins of con­tem­po­rary art—of­ten pre­sumed in­her­ently non-con­tem­po­rary be­cause of the con­tin­ued use of tra­di­tional artis­tic meth­ods and ma­te­ri­als or awk­wardly in­te­grated into larger In­dige­nous art canons. So, it was a wel­come shift to see Inuit art cu­rated with such thought­ful­ness, promi­nence and rev­er­ence. While the re­hang does have gaps—I would have liked to have seen more works in vary­ing con­tem­po­rary me­dia— the show in­di­cates a com­mit­ment to con­sid­er­ing Inuit art as lim­it­less, dy­namic and very much a pro­nounce­ment of Inuit fu­tures. It will be ex­cit­ing to see the NGC’s pre­sen­ta­tion of Inuit art grow with this new vi­sion.

Pit­se­o­lak Ashoona (c. 1904–1989 Kin­ngait) — OP­PO­SITE PAGE The Eyes of a Happy Woman c. 1974 Coloured felt-tip pen 66.2 × 51 cm PHO­TOS NA­TIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA ART­WORK RE­PRO­DUCED WITH PER­MIS­SION DORSET FINE ARTS Oviloo Tun­nil­lie (1949–2014 Kin­ngait) —...

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