Illirijavut: Our values that are precious
JUNE 1–23, 2018 MONTREAL, QC
Two curators reflect on the ten-year retrospective of works produced during storybook-making and storytelling workshops held across Nunavik and beyond and the powerful accounts captured in watercolour.
The exhibition Illirijavut was a ten-year retrospective of original Inuit graphic storybooks created by artists from five different Nunavik communities: Ivujivik, Inukjuak, Salluit, Akulivik and Kangiqsujuaq. The booklets highlight experiences and stories shared by local elders during seven storytelling and storybook-making workshops held over the last decade across Nunavik, and which were led in Inuktut by Qumaq Mangiuk Iyaituk and facilitated by myself. Hailing from distinct cultures while unified by a shared spirit of collaboration, the exhibition explored what defines artmaking and a living culture through Inuit storytelling and creative storybook making.
The project began during the 2009 Annual Nunavik Art Workshops in Inukjuak, when I was hired to develop and teach a storytelling and storybook-making workshop. As a non-Inuktut speaker, I was eager to engage with someone who was able to communicate with the elders, like Mangiuk Iyaituk, who had signed up for the workshop. This began our ten-year artistic collaboration. With our backgrounds in community education, we were keenly aware of the need for qualified art instruction in Inuktut and access to professional art material in all 14 Nunavik communities. We joined forces the following year to meet the challenges faced by artists living in Nunavik and agreed to build on each consecutive workshop. The method was simple: bring the art materials and provide instruction in Inuktut, and the participants would come. “If you can draw a circle, you can join us.” This is how we have designed these group workshops ever since, as an open invitation to anyone 16 and over in the community interested in exploring the subject.
In 2015 the workshops were offered to non-Inuit and Inuit living in southern cities. The inaugural southern workshop was held in Montreal, QC, at the Visual Arts Centre, followed by workshop events held in 2017 at the Native Friendship Center of Montreal’s Inter-Tribal Youth Center at Dawson College
Each work, rendered in watercolour and ink, relays the strong personalities of the individual artists and the often humorous and powerful stories shared by elders.
during Indigenous Days; the University of Ottawa’s Indigenous Resource Centre with Nunavut Sivuniksavut students in Ottawa, ON; the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Manitoba; and at the prestigious École nationale supérieure des beaux arts de Paris in France. Sculptor Mattiusi Iyaituk, a recent recipient of the Ordre des arts et des lettres de Québec from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and long-time project supporter, joined us in 2015 to act as an elder storyteller for the southern workshops.
The 32 storybooks, crafted on paper by 19 individual artists during these workshops, formed the basis of the exhibition. As visitors entered the McClure Gallery in the Visual Arts Centre, they experienced these unique graphic works at eye level. The objective was to eliminate anything non-essential and keep the focus on the small, intricate works that stood folded into an accordion-like design. The storybooks were displayed on two simple Russian pine-wood tables, supported by zigzag bases. Additional works were presented in a series of six wallmounted shelves. Each work, rendered in watercolour and ink, relays the strong personalities of the individual artists and the often humorous and powerful stories shared by elders.
With an easy-going style, Ivujivik-based Paula Ainalik’s storybook conveys the joy of children at play in an anecdote relayed by Mangiuk Iyaituk about a Catholic priest who kept postbags to organize sack races during the Christmas season. Manu Qaunnaaluk, also from Ivujivik, illustrated her booklet with details that capture a personal story told by Mattiusi: Stuck after their Ski-Doo broke down, Mattiusi, his older brother and a friend had to walk for miles to get home. When the friend eventually collapsed from exhaustion, they built an igloo to stay in overnight. Hungry and tired, the party thought they saw a fox. Yet, it turned out to be only a mirage. Fortunately, they were found the next day and brought back to the community.
Inspired by Ivujivik elder Siasi Mangiuk’s experience of her sunglasses breaking from the extreme cold while she and her mother were out checking her father’s fox trap, Passa Mangiuk imbues the story with her unique sense of humour and made visitors laugh out loud with her expressive, playful watercolour drawings. A story by
Eva Sakiagaq Audlaluk about her family going camping during beluga season was the perfect subject for Salluit-based Louisa Pauyungie, whose drawings are often intense and spontaneous, with large figures that emphasize their importance. Pauyungie depicts a family at their traditional summer hunting camp with qajait (kayaks) made with sealskins of different tones.
What stands out in Akulivik-based
Louie Qungisiruk’s long graphic storybooks are her vivid colors and her emphasis on details. Marvelling at her artistic ability and intimate knowledge of her culture, we are drawn in, page after page—especially in this dramatic story, told by Alasie Nappatuk Alaku, that captures a family tragedy with tenderness. Alongside this work, Kangiqsujuaq-based Qiallak Qumaaluk used saturated colours to illustrate the walrus blood and meat prepared and sewn for fermentation in In the Fall, Walrus Go Further North (2017).
A number of the booklets selected for the exhibition were loaned from the Avataq
Cultural Institute, including one by Ivujivikbased jeweller, carver and graphic artist Mary Paningajak, who used a fine-tip ink pen in a pointillist style to produce Just Walking. . . (2011), a sequence of images of an Inuk dressed in a parka. Five of the booklets on display were also published as a unique collection of exhibition catalogues by the McClure Gallery in collaboration with Avataq and translated in Inuktut, English and French. In one, Mangiuk Iyaituk represents with simplicity, elegance and beautiful tones a story that explains why fish have no legs, based on a conversation she had with her grandson Willie. In another, Inukjuak-based Sarah Lisa Kasudluak carefully translated Nellie Nastapoka’s story of her brother’s meticulous construction of dresses into an illustrated tale, featuring vibrant figures in watercolour.
To compliment the rich imagery and shared histories in these booklets, a section of the exhibition contained a soundscape of Mangiuk Iyaituk giving instruction in Inuktut from a workshop in Kangiqsujuaq in 2017, emphasizing and celebrating the vitality of Inuit oral tradition. Taken together, Illirijavut is a strong acknowledgement of the empowerment of individual artists through community storytelling and the capacity for self-expression through visual art and language.
Installation view of Illirijavut: Our values that are preciousat McClure Gallery, Visual Arts Centre, Montreal, QC, 2018 PHOTO KATHRYN DELANEY
Panels fromLouie Qungisiruk’s Losing Family Member (2013)
BELOW Panels from Qumaq Mangiuk Iyaituk’s Fish Have No Legs (2009)
RIGHT Panels from Sarah Lisa Kasudluak’s My Dress (2017)