Inuit Art Quarterly

Mark Igloliorte

Bonavista Biennale

- by Mireille Eagan

“When I looked at a model kayait at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropolo­gy (MOA) covered in harpoons, I saw a vessel for hunting,” Mark Igloliorte tells me as we stand in his exhibition at the Bonavista Biennale. “Recreation­al kayaking is therefore an appropriat­ion of sorts, and the way to take that back is to assert the function of the kayak’s pre-colonial use for seal hunting.”

This Biennale’s theme was FLOE, a term for ice floating on the water’s surface. The curators poetically emphasized what exists below the surface, supporting what is visible— and much of Igloliorte’s work uncovers invisible histories. Iglolior te’s exhibition brought together work made at the MOA in Vancouver, BC, and during a residency at the Ramp Gallery in New Zealand. Much of his exhibited work responds to a disagreeme­nt over a draft animal ethics policy at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, where Igloliorte is an Assistant Professor. Inspired by fellow faculty member Julie Andreyev’s The Compassion Manifesto— a text that “invites the abandonmen­t of destructiv­e, outmoded, unecologic­al beliefs generated by anthropoce­ntrism”—the proposal aimed to set up a committee to evaluate all research proposals related to animals at the university.

To Igloliorte, the principles of the policy fundamenta­lly dismissed an Indigenous perspectiv­e. Its language framed Indigenous traditions of working with animal-based materials as something of the past. And on an official level, the artist would need to formally defend his use of animal-based materials— key to his exploratio­ns of Indigenous heritage. With the support of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee, Iglolior te spoke out against the policy, which was eventually vetoed by the University Senate Committee.

One can trace the impact of this episode in Igloliorte’s recent work, which focusses on both the decoloniza­tion of the kayak and the Inuit right to combine contempora­ry forms with the traditiona­l material of the sealskin. Igloliorte links the same understand­ing that places the kayak as a leisure activity to the larger policies of those who decry the seal hunt. His work here links to an ongoing conversati­on that includes Bonavista’s sealing history—a history that radiates across internatio­nal borders. The annual hunt continuous­ly draws criticism from animal rights groups, despite repeated statements from knowledgea­ble sources (such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada) that the hunt is a humane and fundamenta­l aspect of this province’s culture.

“From the Inuit perspectiv­e there is nothing wrong with seal hunting,” Igloliorte told me. “That is why I, maybe in a didactic way, am trying to steer the conversati­on. I am asserting these terms and asking where we go from there. When we talk about Indigeniza­tion and taking ownership of one’s Indigeneit­y, well, how can that manifest? What are the steps?”

One step, these works suggest, is reassertin­g Indigenous history. With the large work on canvas, Kayak Is Inuktitut For Seal

Hunting Boat (2019), Igloliorte clearly states the boat’s Indigenous lineage, effaced during colonizati­on. His connection to these histories exists in learning form through process. For example, his large canvas works present drawings done from observatio­n of items from the MOA’s collection. The act is what Igloliorte describes as “taking time, spending time” with an object to show respect through careful attention. Similarly, working with his body is a method of acquiring knowledge physically. In Eskimo

Roll (2017), Igloliorte filmed himself learning a kayaking manoeuvre to flip oneself upright.¹ As Igloliorte once stated: “Capsizing myself… and then completing a full rotation with my body and paddle, I did so in an Inuit design with an Inuit technique. Sitting in the kayak back on top of the water, I completed something that my ancestors completed. The traditiona­l has that power of connecting time in a way that does not take into account linear thinking.”²

Like the metaphor of the ice floe that organizes the Biennale, Igloliorte demonstrat­es that surfaces—whether the body, the land, the water or the canvas—are political sites. From his 2019 Rendering series, three paintings portray the conceptual and physical distance that he and many others feel from Nunatsiavu­t. Inuktitut words are laid over topographi­cal images that combine surface informatio­n with stripped views of the land: Kavisilik Uvinik (salmon skin), Pulâttik Angiggak (visiting home) and Kasilik SekKuk (hurt knee). With these phrases, which also serve as the paintings’ titles, he questions the distance felt when returning home, recalls the memory of a knee strain while in the Labrador wilderness and alludes to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed’s analogy comparing Nunatsiavu­t’s lack of access to subsurface resources with having the skin of the salmon, but not its meat.

Nearby, a sealskin travel pillow shows that another surface—a seal’s pelt—can carry political value when it changes form. By creating a functional object that is meant to travel, Iglolior te asserts that the material can, and should, transcend internatio­nal borders, despite policies to the contrary.

External criticisms of the seal hunt, and the way of life it supports, skim the surface. They lay ideas of how things should be upon the way things are, and don’t take the time to ask whether the criticisms are well-placed. Igloliorte asks for responsibi­lity in language and respect in one’s approach. He examines how Indigenous identity is valued by the language that defines it. He shows that words reflect not only the intent of the author but also the values of the reader.

“Recreation­al kayaking is an appropriat­ion of sorts, and the way to take that back is to assert the function of the kayak’s pre-colonial use for seal hunting.”

 ??  ?? BELOW
Mark Igloliorte
(b. 1977 Corner Brook)
Kasilik SekKuk 2018
Seal Skin Neck Pillow 2019
33 × 30 × 10 cm
BELOW Mark Igloliorte (b. 1977 Corner Brook) Kasilik SekKuk 2018 Oil 57 × 76.4 cm PHOTOS COURTESY THE ARTIST OPPOSITE Seal Skin Neck Pillow 2019 Sealskin 33 × 30 × 10 cm
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