Tag Archives: arctic

Visions of History

3 Jun

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As you may know, June is National Aboriginal History Month and as usual MIA is preparing a slew of activities for visitors. This year, we’ve primarily focused on exploring the often-undiscussed tensions created by colonialism that manifest themselves in the art on display here. A special self-guided tour is available throughout June focusing on four specific pieces, and I will be lecturing on National Aboriginal Day (June 21) about this in more detail.

These discussions have seemed more and more urgent at the museum lately. Within the last month, our summer students and docent trainees have been learning about the power dynamics underpinning much of contemporary Inuit art. Meanwhile, the Makivik Corp and NFB have launched a new website tracing the histories of the two most famous forced relocations of Inuit. The story was also further explored recently on the CBC.

So, it was with interest that I opened a new informational poster produced by the Government of Canada and promoted as part of National Aboriginal History Month educational offerings dedicated to “Canadian Arctic Expedition: 1913-1918″ this morning. The poster is a small portion of the text of their expanded webpage about the expedition on the Northern Strategy website.

Throughout the pamphlet there are names and short biographies of Southern explorers and scientists, but no personal identifiers for any Inuit pictured. This portion of the pamphlet features an Inuit woman's ulu but offers no context for why it has been included with the text or who it would have belonged to.

Throughout the poster there are names and short biographies of Southern explorers and scientists, but no personal identifiers for any Inuit pictured. This portion of the poster features an Inuit woman’s ulu but offers no context for why it has been included with the text or who it would have belonged to.

The text emphasizes the contributions of non-Inuit explorers who visited the Arctic over a five year period in two primary fields: scientific discovery and establishing sovereignty for Canada. As a result, the language downplays or ignores important traditional knowledge of local Inuit. For example, the poster explains:

The Expedition discovered five major Arctic islands as well as a number of smaller ones, established the outer edge of the Continental shelf and mapped Arctic coastlines.

I’m quite certain local Inuit were aware of these islands prior to their “discovery” in the twentieth century. Further, the poster insists on the importance of the expedition for establishing Canadian sovereignty and “control” repeatedly, while painting Inuit as helpers at best and props at worst. None of the Inuit pictured are named, though all southern explorers are, and their involvement is described tellingly:

The Canadian Arctic Expedition had a significant impact on the knowledge and understanding of Northern people, particularly the lesser known Copper Inuit. Diamond Jenness’ extensive anthropological studies and collection of artifacts provided great insight into the daily life and culture of Inuit. A large number of Inuit men and women made invaluable contributions to the Canadian Arctic Expedition, acting as guides, seamstresses and cooks, as well as assisting with a number of physical tasks around camp. The relationships established and the knowledge exchanged during the Expedition had lasting impacts on the North and provided a basis for future relations between the Canadian government and Northern peoples.

It seems significant that the anthropologist Diamond Jenness’ studies are noted specifically as expanding southern knowledge of Inuit culture, while the Inuit themselves are relegated to background players. They assist with menial tasks around camp or guide the explorers (presumably to the places they “discovered”) but these “invaluable contributions” serve only to assist with the “real” discoveries made by the explorers and scientists.

National Aboriginal History Month seems like an appropriate time to examine the way we talk about the relationship Canada has with Aboriginal peoples, and this is as good a place to start as any. Thinking critically about historical events is important, especially when their consequences continue to be felt today. If you’re interested in learning more about the complexities around Inuit art specifically, I invite you to come visit the museum this month and explore more. There’s quite a lot to talk about.

- Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Curator

We’re Putting Stephen Colbert On Notice: Why Naming Rights Matter

10 Oct

You might remember that in late July we thanked Justin Bieber for letting us clear up some confusion about Aboriginal peoples in Canada – and now it’s been brought to our attention that we need to do the same for Stephen Colbert.

Stephen Colbert

On last night’s episode of the Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert‘s opening segment revolved around the Arctic (beginning around the 4:23 mark – unfortunately, the video I’ve linked only works in Canada but if you’re in the US you can watch it here). In discussing the recent story about Australian businessman Paul McDonald being fined for breaking the law in Nunavut, Colbert says (around the 5:10 mark):

Did you know the Eskimos now have twenty-five different words for “douchebag”?

There’s something about this that needs clearing up and it’s tied up with popular perception of Inuit.

Colbert is using the word “Eskimo” to describe Aboriginal residents of Nunavut. As an American, I know that many of my countrymen still use that word but here in Canada (and specifically in Nunavut) people use the word Inuit. Two weeks ago, I explained some of the issues around using the word Inuit but to recap: Inuit simply means “the people” in Inuktitut, one dialect of Inuit language. This is the word Inuit used to describe themselves, not “Eskimo.”

Linguists argue where the word “Eskimo” came from, but the most popular back story is that it was derived from a word certain First Nations peoples used to refer to Inuit, which meant “raw flesh eater” and so had negative connotations. Whether this is true or it actually meant something else, the point is it’s not the word Inuit use to describe themselves and is considered derogatory (at best) by many.

The distinction is even made later in the episode when Colbert cites Greenland’s Vice-Premier Jens B. Frederiksen as saying (in relation to China around the 6:30 mark):

We are aware that is because we now have something to offer, not because they’ve suddenly realized that Inuit are nice people.

Even though Colbert did a nice job saying umiaq, that’s missing the point a bit – it’s important (even when making jokes) to respect naming rights. And for the record, as far as I’m aware there’s only one word modern Inuit use for “douchebag” – and it’s the same as in English (which is a language many Inuit today speak).

So Stephen Colbert, we have no choice but to make our own “On Notice” Board and put you on it with the Biebs.

- Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Director of Education, Operations and Outreach

MIA Crafts for Doors Open Toronto

29 May

MIA Kids making inuksuit in the museum’s M. and G. Theil Education Centre.

Narwhals, and walruses, and seals, oh no! MIA arts assistants led the collaborative crafts project for this year’s Doors Open Toronto. MIA Kids constructed Arctic animals, igloos, and inuksuit from modelling clay and paper, and then helped us decorate our Arctic landscape. There were lots of fabulous creations! Here’s a look completed project:

Our nearly finished Arctic landscape. Looks great!

Thanks to all the MIA Kid’s who participated in this fantastic project. The museum  provides drawing materials in the M. and G. Theil Education Centre throughout the week, so come by anytime and participate in our Monthly Drawing Contest. Arts and crafts are led by MIA’s arts assistants every Saturday and Sunday from 12pm-4pm.

Posted by Emma Ward, MIA’s Visitor Services Officer 

Crafts at MIA

25 May

Everyone at MIA is looking forward to the Doors Open Toronto event at Queens Quay Terminal. MIA’s volunteers are busy preparing for the event in our Education Centre. Inspired by the ivory miniatures and camp scene sculptures in the MIA exhibit, our creative arts assistants are constructing an arctic landscape for a special MIA Kid’s collaborative activity! Kids will have the opportunity to contribute to this project by designing their own arctic animals, snow houses, inuksuks, kayaks, and igloos from modeling clay and paper.

Emily Pangnilik Iluitok’s “Winter Scene: With Dog Sleds and Igloos”, Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay), made from stone, ivory, leather, hide and sinew, from the MIA Collection.

MIA Arts Assistants preparing the arctic landscape and practicing their crafts projects for Doors Open Toronto.

There will be lots to do and see at Toronto’s Harbourfront this weekend, so come on over, get inspired, and add to our Arctic environment! At the end of the DOT weekend, MIA will be sharing pictures of the finished landscape! Check out the excellent creations or show us your creative side and join in – everyone is welcome to add to our collaborative project. Learn more about what MIA is for Door Open Toronto here.

The Museum of Inuit Art offers drawing materials in our Education Centre daily, and crafts led by MIA’s arts assistants are offered every Saturday and Sunday from 12pm-4pm!

Posted By Emma Ward, MIA’s Visitor Services Officer

Focus On: Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s Musk Ox

6 May

Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s (1924-) is an Inuit artist from Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake). Barnabus’s works have been a major influence and contribution to Inuit art from Qamani’tuaq since the 1960s.  He has a diverse repertoire of exceptional sculptures; however his muskox sculptures at the Museum of Inuit Art are some of my personal favourites, and are also very popular with visitors. His ability to capture the essence of his subject in a beautifully fluid style appeals to the viewer’s senses, and often makes them want to touch the art work.

Figure 1: Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s (1924-) “Musk Ox” (c. 1970s)

Figure 2: Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s (1924-) “Musk Ox” (1977)

The type of stone available to carve in Qamani’tuaq is a hard stone, which is very difficult to shape and to carve detailing into. The limitations of working with such a stone has certainly contributed to the style of the region, and to Barnabus’s personal expression.  His figures are heavy-set, rounded, and slightly abstract in design.

He captures the characteristics and mannerisms of the musxox by amplifying its features, such as the heavy rounded coat of the muskox in Figure 1 and the arched shoulders of the muskox in Figure 2. Muskoxen are a popular subject with carvers in the region, along with figures of hunters and animal-human transformations.

Musk Ox

Muskoxen in the wild (c) Alastair Knock, used under Creative Commons license.

Come to the museum to take a look at some other works by Barnabus Arnasungaaq!

- Posted By Emma Ward, MIA’s Visitor Services Officer

Arts and Crafts at MIA

12 Nov

At MIA, we strive to foster connections between our visitors and the objects within the Museum’s collections so that meaningful learning leads to change, development and a desire to learn more. In MIA’s M. and G. Thiel Educational Centre, we provide a variety of hands-on art and cultural activities from 12pm to 4pm every weekend. Our volunteer Arts Assistant, Grace, helps to come up with arts and crafts activities inspired by Inuit art on display in the museum, and she is here to assist visitors with creating their own MIA works of art.

MIA volunteer Grace shows off one of her crafty designs inspired by art of the Kitikmeot region in the Arctic (which can be seen on display in the Museum)

Colourful inuksuit (the plural form of inuksuk) made by Grace as a demo for the arts and crafts table

The arts and crafts activities at MIA aren’t  just for kids. People of all ages can join in the fun! Today we had several young people enjoying making crafts at the museum.

Visitors Pavel, Eva, Michael and Saki crafting away with the guidance of MIA volunteer Grace.

Saki presents her multi-coloured inuksuk

Michael hard at work on his artistic creation

The arts and crafts table is just one of the many fun, creative and educational programs we have for visitors at MIA. Be sure to check back on our blog, as well as our website (miamuseum.ca), for more information about our upcoming events, activities and exhibits.

- Posted by: Kate Mossman, MIA’s Development Officer

The Running Date at MIA!

15 Oct

Today we were very excited to have the participants of the Running Date (http://runningdate.ca) visit the museum as one of their stops in this competition inspired by the Amazing Race designed specifically for couples.

In order to complete the challenge at the museum, one member of the couple team had to find a sculpture in the museum and sculpt this same piece using some play-doh.

A participant in the Running Date sculpts her play-doh masterpiece.

Another participant proudly showing his sculpture for the Running Date competition.

Next, the other team member  had to sketch the play-doh sculpture, and then try to match their sketch to the original sculpture in the museum. Once a successful match was made, the team  had completed the challenge and could move on to their next stop in the competition.

Running Date volunteer Damien with one happy team who has successfully completed the MIA challenge.

We had a great time hosting this challenge for the event, and I must say, we were quite impressed by the artistic talents of the Running Date competitors!

Some play-doh sculptures made by teams from Running Date.

- Posted by: Kate Mossman, MIA’s Development Officer

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