As the Young Canada Works Collections Management Officer here at the MIA, I started my summer off with a group of works – mostly stone sculpture – acquired by the museum in 2013. I have always been interested in different materials used in the production of objects and Inuit art is no exception. So, from day one, I’m sure I sounded like a broken record: “Alysa, what kind of stone is this?” Until finally, I began to recognize the vibrant greens of the serpentinite of a Toonoo Sharky, RCA and the bold black basalt in Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s work.
Soon after I familiarized myself with the stone, I was thrown a curve-ball when I was tasked with cataloging and condition reporting Untitled [Faces (Bone on Bone)] by Manasie Akpaliapik. I found this carving absolutely striking not only in the way the artist has created an eerily lifelike face but because it was a completely new medium to me: ossified whalebone.
Ossified whalebone is bone from whales that has been dried out over time making it a viable medium for carvings (prior to my time, someone very eloquently explained the process of whalebone carving on this very blog so I won’t go into great detail here). I have worked with bone before, both animal and human(!), but never whalebone! This medium has the same bubbly-spongy look to it as a lot of other bone but only whale-sized! I was entranced by its texture and managed to find a magnifying glass so I could get an even closer look! For what felt like a long time I was lost in the microcosm of the whalebone. When I returned to reality, I finished cataloging and condition reporting the piece. As Collections Management Officer I am required to take detailed photos of each piece and these definitely turned out to be some of my favourites!
Take a look and see what you think!
– Posted by: Lauren Williams, MIA’s Collections Management Officer