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Art, Responsibility and Stereotypes

14 Oct

It’s no secret that stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples exist, as distressing or damaging as they can be, and that these ideas can manifest themselves in many different forms. The best take I have seen on stereotypes related to Inuit is the short film Sloth, by Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. It’s only two minutes long, but pokes fun at both historical and modern popular views of Inuit:

The point of this post isn’t to get into why stereotypes form, but to point out that they are damaging and pervasive. This has become extremely clear in recent press coverage of acclaimed Inuit artist, Annie Pootoogook.

Annie Pootoogook

Annie Pootoogook in 2009 via Nunatsiaq News

We, like many of you, have been reading stories about Annie for a number of years. Her art has been internationally exhibited; she was the winner of the prestigious Sobey Art Award in 2006; and had broken many other barriers for contemporary Inuit artists. But recently, she has been the subject of a different kind of press attention, one not focused on her art but on her personal life. I won’t link to the series of articles in question, but Annie has fallen on hard times and the response to her personal circumstances has been varied, but often is heavily steeped in stereotypical views of Aboriginal peoples and artists.

For example, numerous comparisons have been made between Annie and Ahnisnabae artist Norval Morrisseau (whose son Christian’s work we are exhibiting currently in our Aboriginal Voices Gallery). Presumably, this is because they were both “troubled”, but I find  it noteworthy that no other, non-Aboriginal artist’s name is invoked. Surely there have been “troubled” artists (and people, for that matter) of many different backgrounds.

Like many museums, we have exhibited Annie’s work before  though at present we do not have any on display. We still feel that Annie is an important voice in contemporary art and that her work needs to be considered on its artistic merits. We also take very seriously our role in displaying art sensitively and in promoting accurate information about the artists whose work we represent.

We have, however, been admittedly reticent to discuss the recent news coverage of her life because it was not directly related to her artwork and, frankly, struck our staff as problematically represented. However, some of our visitors have wanted to discuss this with us and with each other and so we felt that we should open up this space for conversation:

Do you think stereotypes of artists or Aboriginal peoples influence the way we see and speak about an artist’s work? Who do you think bears responsibility for breaking down these views? Do you think we could do more to directly confront these issues?

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

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Celebrating Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok

6 May

Last month, the art world lost a renowned and important voice: Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok passed away on April 12 at the age of 77. Born in Nunalla, Manitoba in 1934, she was part of the Ihalmiut group of Inuit in the Kivalliq region. Eventually, she moved to Kangirqliniq (Rankin Inlet) where she met Richard Tutsweetok. They eventually settled in Arviat, where swiftly become one of the most defining voices of Inuit art.

Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok

Tasseor is best known for her sculptures, which helped to set an artistic standard for Kivalliq sculptural style along with artists like John Pangnark and Andy Miki. Using hard steatite, she created abstract yet deeply moving works. Like many artists working with tough stone in the region, she worked with the stone rather than against it. Instead of sculpting detailed, realistic sculptures, Tasseor instead would sculpt minimalist figures that appeared to emerge from the stone using incised lines for added detail. Often, her process was visible on the stone: file marks were left exposed, showing her hand and the human effort it took to create the piece.

Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok “Faces” (2001)

Though abstract, Tasseor’s work often focuses on the themes of familial and community relationships. Her figures rarely exist in isolation, but rather emerge in groups from the stone. Her careful handling of the spatial relationships between the figures transforms the cold stone into a warm examination of the importance of relationships to Arctic life. Tasseor was a well-respected elder in her community who helped to support many living in Arviat, so her focus on relationships seems to be an extension of her own life.

Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok “Family” (1980s) in the Sprott/MIA Collection

Though known primarily for her sculpture, Tasseor also created other art forms. For example, she drew on occasion and demonstrated in another medium her unique artistic voice. Her colourful works stand in stark contrast to her grey sculptures, but they share a certain warmth and her unique perspective.

Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok “Woman Wanted Her Child and the Spirit Tried to Stop Her” (c. 2000s), Private Collection on loan to MIA

Last year, MIA showcased Tasseor’s work as part of our “Focus On” series of exhibitions and many of those pieces are still on display inside our permanent exhibition area. We also installed a large sculpture of hers as a hands-on opportunity, so the next time you are here you can take a moment and closely examine her work. In addition to MIA, Tasseor’s work is included in many public collections, which is a testament to her skill as an artist.

Our condolences go out to her friends and family; she will certainly be missed.

Posted by Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator

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

Interview with Noah Maniapik

28 Apr

Noah Maniapik, courtesy of the artist

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing artist Noah Maniapik in anticipation of his printmaking workshop at MIA on May 14th. Starting at 12:30 on the 14th, he will be giving a one hour printmaking demonstration before working with our visitors to make their own prints to take home. I was excited for the event before, but after meeting Noah and his friend Emily who will be assisting with the printmaking, I can’t wait for the 14th to get here.

If you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook, you’ll know that I have been asking if anyone had any questions they would like me to ask Noah. We got some incredible questions and I am very happy to post the answers here, in addition to questions of my own. If you have any more questions you’d like to ask Noah, keep letting us know! And be sure to come to the workshop on the 14th – you can get the details here on the blog, on our website, and RSVP on Facebook.

"The Old Days" by Noah Maniapik, 2006, Stencil Print (c) Noah Maniapik

MIA: We just have a couple questions for you, some of them are from our visitors and I think they’re really exciting, so let’s get started! How did you begin making art?

Noah: As a kid I found that I was naturally talented. Ever since then I’ve been doing art up until early 2000 when I started taking it seriously.

I understand that you have also done carvings as well as jewelry-making. I guess you prefer printmaking – is that true?

Yes.

Can I ask why that is?

Probably because of the material. What I was using was ivory and to inhale it was very hard on the lungs and that’s the main reason.

So you prefer printmaking because it’s easier on you in terms of your health?

Yes.

How much formal training have you had, if any?

I’ve taken a few printmaking workshops as well as some courses through Arctic College and with other people who have come by, and a little bit in high school.

And when did you first start printmaking?

2001, I started making prints.

And that year you had prints released in the annual collection.

Yes, that’s right.

That’s exciting. We have some questions about your printmaking process and a lot of these come from our visitors. The first one is from Kate – she wanted to know what inspires your artwork?

Other people’s art. My uncles are mostly artists and I watched them when I was a kid, as well as my grandfather was a carver. They have inspired me.

Joceline wanted to know what your favorite subject matter is and does it change depending on the form of the art or the method of printmaking?

I like to be different in the work that I do and I like a variety of forms of art, not necessarily one thing.

Joceline also wanted to know if you had a favorite method of printmaking?

Yes I do, which I do now – stencil printmaking.

So why is that your favorite?

Because each piece is an original because we cannot duplicate it like with linoleum cut or woodcut – it’s basically all the same, where with stencils each piece is an original. You try to make them the same but each piece is original.

Our visitors will get to see that on the 14th! This is actually my question – do you have particular materials you prefer using, like different sorts of papers, and does that depend on the kinds of print you’re making?

I’ve tried various different colors and the one that’s really working for me now is white on black. I prefer that because it’s really different and like I said, I like to be different.

"Transformation" by Noah Maniapik, Stencil Print, (c) Noah Maniapik

Definitely. Within the printmaking studio, is there a split between artists who draw, printmakers who make the prints and artists like yourself who create your own prints?

For the collection pieces, we will pick. Say, if I like that piece, someone’s art piece, I will take that with his or her permission and I can print that and I can do my own pieces as well.

Do you find that there’s a big difference between doing your own pieces or someone else’s, in the way that you approach it?

Yes.

Which one do you like doing more?

My own pieces because that way I don’t have any conflict with the artist.

Does that happen a lot?

It all depends on the person. They might say, “Oh, I didn’t want it that way. Why did you print it that way?”

It all works out in the end though, right?

Yeah.

Well, that’s good. Kate wanted to know what is your favorite print that you’ve produced?

…the bear [“Our Food II”].

"Our Food II" by Noah Maniapik, Stencil print, 51/60 (c) Noah Maniapik

How long does it take to make a print?

Average? 15 minutes to half an hour. It all depends on the size.

One of our volunteers named Kim noticed a certain symmetry in your prints, especially around the edges. Is that composition conscious or do you try to get a certain balance in the images that you print?

I try to. You can’t always create it that way, but I try.

She also wanted to know, with the final image in mind and once you’ve had it drawn, how do you conceptualize and create stencils?

You just have to be creative.

Karolina wanted to know if you ever come up with an idea for a print that you then have to abandon or change due to the nature of the process?

Yes, when I do an image and I don’t like it, I usually leave it because I’m very conscious of what I make. Then again other people might like it, but I usually put it aside until I can work on it some more.

Does that happen often?

A few times.

You said you’re really interested in white on black – do you see your style moving in different directions?

I’m always open to new things and that was something that I tried and people liked. Sometimes, it’s also based on demand and what people want.

Do you think prints from Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung) have a unique style, or does it just vary among the artists?

I think it varies among the artists because it’s very similar to Holman prints because we use the same method, stencil prints. But we do have different techniques as well, we do etchings, lithography and woodcuts.

You mentioned before that your method of making stencil prints is different than the one they use in Ulukhaktok (Holman), is that right?

Yes. In Holman they do the swiping technique with the brush, where in Pangnirtung we do the dabbing technique. The dabbing technique gives it more of an airbrushed effect.

Are there institutional factors that affect your ability to make prints? I know we had been talking earlier about the need for artists to sometimes have other jobs or the need for materials. 

Yes. Logisics… say, if the Centre runs out of materials you have to wait for the materials to come in before you can make any prints.

Well, you can’t make prints out of nothing, that’s true! Taylor wanted to know if, other than yourself, you had a favorite artist. I know you mentioned your family members being inspirations. 

I would say my favorite artist was Tivi Ashevak. He’s passed on, but he’s inspired me the most.

Are you excited for the event on the 14th? 

Yes I am. I’m a little nervous, but excited!

Thank you again to Noah for taking the time to talk with me and answer some of your (and my) questions! Before the event, we’ll be posting blog features on printmaking, especially in Panniqtuuq (and some more of Noah’s pieces!), but be sure to come to the printmaking workshop on the 14th to learn all about it first hand!

Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator