Dorset Seen Cat­a­logue

Car­leton Univer­sity Art Gallery

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Elisha Lim

Dorset Seen is the newly minted cat­a­logue for the 2013 ex­hibit that ex­plored 60 years of con­tem­po­rary Inuit art at the Car­leton Univer­sity Art Gallery (CUAG). Co-cu­rated by CUAG Di­rec­tor San­dra Dyck and Les­lie Boyd, cu­ra­tor and for­mer Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor for the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op­er­a­tive, the pri­mary art buyer for Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, the ex­hi­bi­tion and cat­a­logue are ded­i­cated to the com­mu­nity’s self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion through­out six decades of rad­i­cal up­heaval and col­o­niza­tion. Taken as a whole, the se­lected draw­ings and sculp­tures nar­rate a very lo­cal and spe­cific con­tin­uum. Boyd, who was a long-time Kin­ngait res­i­dent, opens the cat­a­logue with the essay “Kin­ngarmiut Tau­tut­tan­git ‘Dorset Seen’”, fol­lowed by in­ter­views with artists Tim Pit­si­u­lak (1967–2016) and Ningiukulu Teevee. Her essay casts an in­tro­duc­tory net over a vast and trou­bling his­tory, but, in its brevity, risks min­i­miz­ing the sys­tem­atic trauma of fed­eral pro­grams. For ex­am­ple, res­i­den­tial schools are sum­ma­rized in one para­graph as “a sad chap­ter”, and the com­pli­cated ar­rival of the art mar­ket is con­densed as “the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment’s plan to raise the stan­dards of liv­ing amongst Inuit.” De­spite pro­vid­ing read­ers with a solid foun­da­tion in the nu­ances of Kin­ngait’s evo­lu­tion as a ma­jor art­mak­ing cen­tre, the essay would have ben­e­fit­ted from more point­edly ad­dress­ing these com­plex pe­ri­ods, which would have bet­ter grounded the reader for the sub­se­quent cri­tiques in the re­main­der of the cat­a­logue. In con­trast, Boyd’s fond con­ver­sa­tion with long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor Ningiukulu Teevee il­lu­mi­nates warm per­sonal and spe­cific de­tails about Teevee’s life as a daugh­ter, grand­mother and il­lus­tra­tor of the Gover­nor Gen­eral Lit­er­ary Award– nom­i­nated book Alego (Ground­wood Books: Toronto, 2009). In her in­ter­view with Tim Pit­si­u­lak, the strik­ing cen­tre­piece is his 2009 draw­ing Carver’s In­come, in which a carver walks atop the blade of a gi­ant grinder in a per­pet­ual cy­cle of art pro­duc­tion, with gar­ish yel­low plas­tic hard­ware store bags weigh­ing heav­ily in one hand and slung over the other shoul­der. The grinder’s cord winds, curves and plugs into a gi­ant socket in his house, gen­er­at­ing heat, elec­tric­ity and rent in a frank and poignant state­ment about the reliance of the com­mu­nity on the colo­nial art mar­ket—a fraught re­la­tion­ship that Dyck fur­ther con­tex­tu­al­izes in her sub­se­quent essay. “Stan­dard De­vi­a­tions” is crit­i­cal and di­rect, pro­vid­ing a rich, nu­anced his­tory of the un­equal sym­bio­sis be­tween Kin­ngait artists and the colo­nial art mar­ket and crit­i­cizes fed­eral so­cial pro­grams that, start­ing in the 1930s, ad­vanced com­mer­cial ob­jec­tives at the ex­pense of Inuit com­mu­ni­ties. Dyck

pro­vides poignant case stud­ies of artists like Keno­juak Ashe­vak, CC, ON, RCA (1927–2013), one of the com­mu­nity’s first ex­ported artists, whose vivid, ab­sorb­ing draw­ings, such as Bird With Spirit (1967), were ti­tled to please “the white man,” at the same time as her fam­ily and home life were be­ing de­stroyed. Ashe­vak, Dyck writes, barely weath­ered the painful years re­ferred to as “Nu­nalin­nguqti­tauliqtil­luta,” or “the time when we were ac­tively [by out­side force] formed into com­mu­ni­ties.” Dyck also traces the emer­gence of ex­ploita­tive na­tional poli­cies from an ide­ol­ogy of prim­i­tivism–a prej­u­dice that has also been nur­tured in the the art world–and de­scribes the cal­lous co­nun­drum of im­pe­rial ap­petites: in 1965 the Globe and Mail quoted that Inuit art was “over”, be­cause West­ern con­tact had forced it to evolve too much. For that rea­son it was a de­fi­ant and risky act to break these rules. Dyck il­lu­mi­nates the courage of bold au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal works, like This Had Touched My Life (1991-92) by Oviloo Tun­nil­lie, RCA (1949–2014) or Paulassie Pootoo­gook’s (1927–2006) Honda ATV (1986), whose ex­per­i­men­tal gam­bles forced open new chap­ters of con­tem­po­rary Inuit art. Dyck quotes Pootoo­gook, who de­scribes how dif­fi­cult it was to sell any carv­ing but an­i­mals, a de­mand that he boldly de­fies in the afor­men­tioned work, hon­ing the sleek green and black steatite to faith­fully re­pro­duce the en­tire quad bike from its bev­elled grips to its dim­pled leather sad­dle. Dyck’s rare omis­sions are also worth con­sid­er­ing. There is a no­table si­lence around the pub­lic re­sponse and racism fol­low­ing the death of An­nie Pootoo­gook (1969–2016), whose me­te­oric ca­reer oc­cu­pies a key sec­tion of the cat­a­logue. Its omis­sion must have been a wrought de­ci­sion, but for a cat­a­logue that thought­fully cu­rates what must be “seen,” it is an odd ab­sence. Over­all, how­ever, Dorset Seen is an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to a bur­geon­ing body of crit­i­cal artwrit­ing on the his­tory of Kin­ngait, a field of study that Dyck ac­knowl­edges is still in its early stages. Dyck and Boyd’s writ­ings, and in par­tic­u­lar the artist in­ter­views, there­fore, of­fer a promis­ing start and one that will also, ideally, con­tinue to fore­ground the voices and schol­ar­ship of Inuit artists and art his­to­ri­ans to come.

Dorset Seen is an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to a bur­geon­ing body of crit­i­cal artwrit­ing on the his­tory of Kin­ngait, a field of study that Dyck ac­knowl­edges is still in its early stages.

The cover of Dorset Seen fea­tur­ing Shuvinai Ashoona’s Un­ti­tled (Peo­ple lin­ing up to sell art­work), 2012

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