Inuit Women Artists

On The Im­por­tance of Art and Self-dis­cov­ery

The McGill Daily - - News - Phyl­l­ida Mar­tignetti The Mcgill Daily

The Mcgill In­dige­nous Stud­ies Pro­gram hosted a panel called ᐃᓄᐃᑦ ᐊᕐᓇᐃᑦ ᐃᓱᒪᓂᕕ ᐊᒻᒪ ᓴᓇᙳᐊᒐᑦ: Inuit Women in

Art on Sep­tem­ber 25. The panel fea­tured four dis­tin­guished In­dige­nous women in var­i­ous fields of art. The event was one of many hap­pen­ing across cam­pus as part of Mcgill’s eighth an­nual In­dige­nous Aware­ness Week.

Pa­tri­cia John­son- Cas­tle, Ad­min­is­tra­tive and Stu­dent Af­fairs Co­or­di­na­tor for the In­dige­nous Stud­ies Pro­gram, and or­ga­nizer of the night’s event, opened the panel by in­tro­duc­ing the four guest speak­ers: Beat­rice Deer ( ᐱᐊᑐᐊᔅ ᑎᐅ), singer, tele­vi­sion pro­ducer, and au­thor; Nancy Saunders ( ᓂᐊᑉ ᓴᓐᑐᔅ), known pro­fes­sion­ally as Niap, vis­ual artist and throat singer; Heather Iglo­liorte ( ᓯᕈ ᐃᒡᓗᓕᐅᖅᑎ), co-chair of the In­dige­nous Cir­cle for the Win­nipeg Art Gallery; and Nina Se­ga­lowitz ( ᓂᓇ ᓯᒐᓗᕕᑦᔅ), writer and throat singer.

Beat­rice Deer took the floor first and went into de­tail re­gard­ing the var­i­ous types of art forms she has ex­plored over the years in­clud­ing, cos­tume de­sign, mu­sic, fine art, lit­er­a­ture and sewing. Deer hails from Quaq­taq, Nun­abik and has resided in Mon­treal for the past 11 years. She pre­vi­ously sat on the board for the Inuit Art Foun­da­tion along­side fel­low speaker of the evening, Heather Iglo­liorte, and Deer re­ceived the award her­self in 2016.

Iglo­liorte, an Inuk scholar and in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor, as well as Co-di­rec­tor of the Ini­tia­tive for In­dige­nous Fu­tures Clus­ter, dis­cussed how the is­sue of a lack of In­dige­nous recog­ni­tion af­fects us all, re­gard­less of our re­spec­tive back­grounds. She high­lighted the dif­fi­cul­ties in cre­at­ing a com­pre­hen­sive learn­ing pro­gram, ex­plain­ing, “even in cour­ses where In­dige­nous art is meant to en­com­pass a broad range of artis­tic prac­tices, there’s not a lot of spe­cial­iza­tion or un­der­stand­ing, [...] First Na­tions col­leagues,” she said “have said to me that they’re not re­ally com­fort­able teach­ing art be­cause they never stud­ied it when they were at school or they don’t see it in ex­hi­bi­tions in the same way [as non First-na­tions peo­ple].”

Iglo­liorte dis­cussed at length the irony within pro­mot­ing and dis­play­ing Inuit and In­dige­nous art: “we have these col­lec­tions of Inuit art in al­most ev­ery mu­seum and gallery in this coun­try as well as a whole bunch of gal­leries all over the world [...] and yet in this coun­try there’s never been a per­ma­nent full time Inuk em­ployed in a mu­seum.” Uni­ver­si­ties of­fer­ing cour­ses in Inuit and In­dige­nous art ex­ist ex­clu­sively in the South of Canada. The North, in con­trast, pos­sesses no uni­ver­si­ties at all, just a few col­leges. “Canada is the only Arc­tic coun­try that does not have a univer­sity in the Arc­tic,” Iglo­liorte ex­plained.

Deer spoke about be­ing “very in­flu­enced by [her] cul­ture” and how she “writes mostly in Inuk­ti­tut as that is [her] first lan­guage and that’s the one [she] is most con­fi­dent ex­press­ing her­self [in].” Deer and the other pan­elists all shared the sen­ti­ment that their art is as much about im­prov­ing the rights for In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tions and ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers, as it is about self- dis­cov­ery.

Nancy Saunders, who is pro­fes­sion­ally known as Niap, is a vis­ual artist from Ku­u­jjuaq, Nu­navik. Her pseu­do­nym comes from a mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tion of the Inuk­ti­tut word for older sis­ter. Saunders, who pro­vided an open­ing speech in her mother tongue of Inuk­ti­tut, spoke of her tran­si­tion from fig­u­ra­tive and lit­eral work into the ab­stract. She de­scribed this jour­ney in terms of her self­ex­pres­sion and self-re­al­iza­tion of her her­itage.

“When I was grow­ing up in the South I was very much ashamed of who I was,” Saunders moved from her home town of Ku­u­jjuaq at the age of 12. Saunders stated that her ini­tial work fo­cused pre­dom­i­nantly on the lit­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “who [the Inuit] are with the tra­di­tional cloth­ing and such, and then [she] started learn­ing about the mythol­ogy [...] sto­ries about trans­for­ma­tions, and meta­mor­phoses.” Of her art, she said, “I just kind of share what I think is beau­ti­ful from my cul­ture and I want to share the sto­ries and these things that I am dis­cov­er­ing — I want other peo­ple to dis­cover them at the same time as I am.”

Saunders demon­strated this pe­riod of self- dis­cov­ery and evo­lu­tion by show­cas­ing sev­eral ex­am­ples of her work. She pre­sented a life-like draw­ing with a sec­tion of three di­men­sional bead­work, and a stream from her home­town ac­com­pa­nied by a mon­tage of sounds from her home. Saunders stressed greatly the ne­ces­sity to be “im­mersed in the piece” and of­fers this as an ex­pla­na­tion for her use of sev­eral medi­ums at once.

Saunders dis­cussed at length the strug­gles she has faced both in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally with the per­cep­tions of what it means to be Inuk. Dur­ing a sculpt­ing res­i­dence in Paris, France, Saunders was faced with hav­ing to jus­tify her iden­tity to the peo­ple around her. “I wasn’t con­sid­ered a real Inuk in France, be­cause I lived off sec­ond-hand in­for­ma­tion,” she said, “I wasn’t born in an Igloo, I have pale skin and I have green eyes and I didn’t live with a dog sled or any­thing like that, so I strug­gled ev­ery day to jus­tify what it means to be Inuit.”

This sense of in­ter­nal­ized shame was sim­i­larly ex­pressed by Nina Se­ga­lowitz. Born Anne-marie Thrasher in Fort Smith North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, Se­ga­lowitz was stolen from her par­ents at the age of seven months dur­ing the Six­ties scoop.

The Six­ties scoop refers to the wide-scale na­tional ap­pre­hen­sion of In­dige­nous chil­dren by child­wel­fare agen­cies to place them in non-in­dige­nous homes in Canada, the US, and even over­seas. The prac­tice be­gan in the 1950’s and lasted un­til the mid to late 80’s.

This trau­matic dis­place­ment was in­stru­men­tal in Se­ga­lowitz’s jour­ney to self- dis­cov­ery. Through the out­lets of mu­sic and spo­ken word, she has been able to start to rec­on­cile her her­itage with the way she grew up. “I still feel anx­i­ety,” she said, “I al­ways felt like I was play­ing a part [grow­ing up in her Filipino-jewish fam­ily [...] I al­ways felt like peo­ple had a list of things they wanted me to do — they wanted me to go to a pri­vate girls’ school, I went to a pri­vate girls’ school, they wanted me to pray in He­brew, I prayed in He­brew [...] I felt like I was al­ways con­stantly meet­ing other peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions of me.”

“Throat singing was a way for me to heal that hole in my heart and my spirit, and when I do it I feel trans­ported in time. Ev­ery time I learn a new song, the govern­ment loses again”.

Speak­ing af­ter the event, Pa­tri­cia John­son- Cas­tle, whose fam­ily is from the In­dige­nous com­mu­nity of Nu­natsi­avut in Labrador, ex­plained the im­por­tance of this event: “[In­dige­nous peo­ple] are so mul­ti­tal­ented and it’s only [...] in the past lit­tle while that peo­ple are get­ting the recog­ni­tion that they de­serve based on their tal­ent”.

John­son- Cas­tle also spoke at length about her hes­i­ta­tions with In­dige­nous art be­ing placed in gal­leries: “the way that those pieces of Inuit art have got­ten into mu­se­ums all over the world is also part of this greater project of the Cana­dian govern­ment [say­ing] ‘you are use­ful in this way.’”

“we have these col­lec­tions of Inuit art in al­most ev­ery mu­seum and gallery in this coun­try as well as a whole bunch of gal­leries all over the world [...] and yet in this coun­try there’s never been a per­ma­nent full time Inuk em­ployed in a mu­seum.” — Heather Iglo­liorte

“Throat singing was a way for me to heal that hole in my heart and my spirit and when I do it I feel trans­ported in time. Ev­ery time I learn a new song, the govern­ment loses again”. — Nina Se­ga­lowitz

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