De­col­o­niz­ing Inuit Art Re­jjie Snow’s Place in Hip-hop

A More In­clu­sive Fu­ture for Inuit Art

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Sara Hashemi Cul­ture Writer

On Septem­ber 6, the Avataq In­sti­tute and the Mon­treal Mu­seum of Fine Arts ( MMFA) an­nounced that the two in­sti­tu­tions would form a part­ner­ship for the pro­mo­tion of Inuit art and cul­ture. The Mcgill Daily had the chance to sit down with Inuk di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Avataq In­sti­tute, Robert Fréchette, to dis­cuss Avataq and its fu­ture plans. We dis­cussed this new col­lab­o­ra­tion and its im­pli­ca­tions, and the his­tory of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Inuit peo­ple in Que­bec.

The Avataq In­sti­tute was cre­ated 40 years ago by el­ders in Nu­navik with the mis­sion of pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing the Inuit cul­ture of Nu­navik. It is staffed en­tirely by Inuit peo­ple. It boasts im­pres­sive archives of Inuit oral tra­di­tion through hours of record­ings, thou­sands of his­tor­i­cal pho­tos, and the ge­neal­ogy of ev­ery Inuk from Nu­navik. The Avataq In­sti­tute also hosts var­i­ous ini­tia­tives such as an ar­chae­ol­ogy pro­gram, a pub­li­ca­tion ser­vice, art ex­hi­bi­tions, and a pro­gram that gives Inuit stu­dents a year’s worth of col­lege cred­its for study­ing Inuit his­tory, cul­ture, and lan­guage.

Cur­rently, the Avataq In­sti­tute is lo­cated in a cor­po­rate build­ing in West­mount, but part of the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the MMFA in­cludes a move to mu­seum- owned build­ings down­town. Fréchette shared his en­thu­si­asm about the new lo­ca­tion, say­ing that it will give stu­dents bet­ter ac­cess to Mcgill and Con­cor­dia. Ad­di­tion­ally, this move will bring the In­sti­tute closer to the mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors of the mu­seum, and pro­vid­ing a more ac­ces­si­ble lo­ca­tion for the lo­cal Inuit com­mu­nity will play a big part in the pro­mo­tion of Inuit art and cul­ture.

When asked about the cur­rent state of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Inuit art and cul­ture, Fréchette ex­plained, “I see a trend form­ing. There’s more room for Inuit artists. To what ex­tent this is just fash­ion, the pop­u­lar­ity of words like rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and de­col­o­niza­tion, I don’t know. I hope not.”

And there is a trend. Through the work of In­dige­nous ac­tivists across Canada, a space has been carved out in main­stream art. Inuit art is fi­nally be­ing given its own space in art gal­leries across Canada. The Art Gallery of On­tario (AGO) re­cently ran an ex­hibit called Tu­nir­ru­sian­git, which show­cased the art of Keno­juak Ashe­vak, her nephew Tim Pit­si­u­lak, and the work of three Inuit cu­ra­tors. This ex­hibit is the first of its kind for the AGO, as Inuit art had never been fea­tured in the gallery’s largest space, nor had it ever em­ployed a pri­mar­ily Inuit cu­ra­to­rial team. Ashe­vak’s art­work fea­tures sur­real de­pic­tions of birds and North­ern wildlife, such as Boun­ti­ful­bird (1986), a draw­ing of a bird with feath­ers made of seag­ull heads. She is con­sid­ered the “grand­mother of Inuit art,” so to fi­nally rec­og­nize her work in a main­stream in­sti­tu­tion is a long over­due step in the right di­rec­tion. Pit­si­u­lak’s work mainly uses bold, bright colours to de­pict mod­ern life in Nu­navut and tra­di­tional Inuit cul­ture, and his work in­forms au­di­ences on what life and cul­ture in the Arc­tic are like to­day. Fea­tur­ing these artists on such a grand scale pro­vides a fair, rep­re­sen­ta­tive im­age of Inuit cul­ture to the greater pub­lic, work­ing against a his­tory of mis­in­for­ma­tion and mis rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

In the same vein, the Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory has launched a trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tion en­ti­tled Pic­tur­ing Arc­tic­moder­nity – north baf­fin Draw­ings from 1964, which fea­tures 50 draw­ings cre­ated in 1964 by Inuit peo­ple of the Nu­navut re­gion. The ex­hi­bi­tion was pro­duced along­side lo­cal In­dige­nous peo­ple, and, as the Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory de­scribes it, de­picts “thoughts, con­cerns, mem­o­ries and ob­ser­va­tions of the peo­ple of Nu­navut dur­ing a time of so­cial up­heaval.”

Inuit artists are now not only be­ing fea­tured in these spa­ces, but they are the ones cu­rat­ing them. Cu­ra­to­rial con­trol gives Inuit peo­ple the power to rep­re­sent them­selves, their cul­ture, and their his­tory how­ever they choose. By shift­ing power to In­dige­nous hands, we are mov­ing closer to­wards the de­col­o­niza­tion of artis­tic spa­ces.

Whereas the Inuit art col­lec­tion at the MMFA was started in 1964 by F. Cleve­land Mor­gan, a white man, the new col­lab­o­ra­tion will make ef­forts to in­clude Inuit peo­ple in the cu­ra­to­rial process and to en­sure their in­volve­ment with the col­lec­tion. While the part­ner­ship is still in ne­go­ti­a­tions, this is a pos­si­ble step­ping- stone to­wards un­do­ing the era­sure of Inuit peo­ple from the grand scheme of Cana­dian art and cul­ture.

When it comes to the recog­ni­tion of In­dige­nous peo­ple in the pub­lic sphere in Que­bec and Canada, we still have a long way to go. With im­pend­ing elec­tions in Que­bec, we have yet to hear any politi­cians ad­dress In­dige­nous is­sues. “The gov­ern­ment must do much more. I don’t think Na­tive peo­ple go vot­ing a lot, so they’re ig­nored. That’s some­thing we need to stop do­ing. It’s Que­bec his­tory, and it has to change,” Fréchette says about the cur­rent way our gov­ern­ment ad­dresses In­dige­nous peo­ple. He hopes that by show­ing an au­then­tic, non-folko­rized de­pic­tion of Inuit life and cul­ture, Avataq is do­ing its best to change this Que­bec his­tory.

So, what can non-in­dige­nous do to im­prove the way In­dige­nous cul­ture is rep­re­sented? “Make room for Na­tive peo­ple to ex­press them­selves,” says Fréchette. “That’s some­thing we’ve been miss­ing.” It’s a step in the right di­rec­tion — to­wards a more in­clu­sive fu­ture in not only Cana­dian art, but also in the na­tional po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

Inuit artists are now not only be­ing fea­tured in these spa­ces, but they are the ones cu­rat­ing them. Cu­ra­to­rial con­trol gives Inuit peo­ple the power to rep­re­sent them­selves, their cul­ture, and their his­tory how­ever they choose. “To what ex­tent sup­port for Inuit artists is just fash­ion, I don’t know. I hope it is more than that.” — Robert Fréchette The part­ner­ship is a pos­si­ble step­ping-stone to­wards un­do­ing the era­sure of Inuit peo­ple from the grand scheme of Cana­dian art and cul­ture.

New Wing for the Shaman

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