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

Trip Update

23 Sep

Hello, everyone!

Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a few days – we’ve been incredibly busy here. We got to go out on the land near Rankin Inlet yesterday – pictures are uploading to Flickr right now. We got to see a traditional sod house, or qammaq recreated by local elders, as well as lots of snow geese, Canadian geese and another siksiq, or Arctic ground squirrel. Unlike the last one, which was hidden in the grass, this one came right up to us – because we were between it and its burrow.

In addition, we’ve been spending time getting to know all of the artists at the Matchbox Gallery and Kangirqliniq Centre for Learning and Arts. As part of our project development here, I’ve been interviewing all of the artists and it has been amazingly rewarding so far. We’ll be sharing parts of those interviews over the coming weeks.

Interviewing John Kurok

– Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educa 

Ceramic Production Part 1

20 Sep

Today was a huge day for us here in Kangirqliniq (Rankin Inlet). As I mentioned yesterday, we had been popping by the Matchbox Gallery last weekend, but today we were there the whole day in order to do some work. Part of that work is documenting and researching some of their collection and part of it is getting to know the artists and share their process with you.

From left to right: Phillip Ugjuk, Jack Nuviak, Amauyah Noah and Jim Shirley sketching

First, a bit of background on the program. The Government of the Northwest Territories set up a ceramics program in Rankin Inlet in 1963 in order to provide jobs for local Inuit when the nearby Nickel Mine shut down (this was before the creation of Nunavut, when the NWT was administering the area). The program encountered several obstacles – things as basic as obtaining clay were challenges. There is local clay available, but the labor costs to process it are extremely high. Eventually, that program closed. In the 1980s, Jim Shirley came to the community and was inspired to begin another program. With his wife Sue, he opened the Matchbox Gallery in 1987 and revived ceramics making here.

The Kangirqliniq Centre for Learning and Arts operates with the same people on the same premises as the Matchbox. The KCLA realizes the Shirleys vision of artistic production: a communal, collaborative program that is supportive, holistic and enriching. Each day, artists begin by journaling in order to externalize and process whatever they are feeling; then, they do brief math and reading exercises. These activities perform several essential functions: they help to increase analytical and problem-solving skills, have clear real world enrichment and help to build self-confidence. With this base, everyone then completes some drawing exercises – often still lifes and portraits. These skills are the foundations of the program – the spatial reasoning needed to draw successfully translates into other art forms. Then, individual artists work on their own projects.

Today, we were able to participate in this process which was a true honor. Instead of simply documenting works, we really were integrated into the activities today. For example, today’s portrait subject was our Director, David.

(From left to right:) Philip Ugjuk, Helen Iguptak, Amauyah Noah, Jack Nuviak, Jim Shirley and David Harris look at sketches - of David.

I should also clarify something I said early – not exactly everyone participates in the drawing exercises. Veteran ceramicist Yvo Samgushak had no time or interest in sketching and instead moved directly to working on his own work. He later communicated to me that he though drawing was crazy (Yvo is deaf and communicates primarily using Inuktitut sign language).

Yvo Samgushak focuses on his own work while Jack Nuviak (left) and Jim Shirley sketch in the background.

In addition to Yvo, John Kurok, Jack Nuviak, Helen Iguptak, Amauyah Noah and Phillip Ugjuk were working, as well as Jim and Sue. The emphasis on collaboration in the studio was clear: Helen and Amauyah, for example, normally create dolls and prints, respectively. Today, they were working on creating clay masks. They helped each other, asked Phillip about sculpting noses and had input from John and Jack, too. There was lots of laughter in the studio. And just amazing material being created.

Amauyah Noah (left) and Helen Iguptak helping each other create masks.

They are all extremely gracious and friendly and I’m extremely grateful that they allowed me to photograph and film them working. I have to edit the movies before they go up on Youtube, but the photos are up on Facebook and Flickr currently. I further get the opportunity to speak to them individually this week about their work – if you have questions you’d like me to ask, let me know. I will keep posting updates as we work through the week  – if the rest of the week is anything like today, we are all in for some real treats.

Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator

On The Tundra

18 Sep

Today was a big day for us here in Kangirqliniq (Rankin Inlet). We spent most of the day at the Matchbox Gallery, which specializes in the production of ceramics. We spoke to co-founder Jim Shirley about their approach to ceramics and what he calls the “literacy of touch” – the idea that there is a kind of language incorporated into building something with clay, that there is a kind of magic to the clay where every imprint and touch is visible. John Kurok also stopped by to work on a piece, which was exciting to see. We are going back tomorrow, so I will save most of the discussion of our visit for then.

Director David Harris at the Matchbox Gallery

Me at the Matchbox Gallery

Afterward, I had the opportunity to take a walk outside the community and onto the tundra. Now, I did not go out on the land – this was very close to Kangirqliniq – but the difference between this area and the community-proper was pretty stark. It was quiet, peaceful and full of plant and animal life – there really wasn’t anyone else around. I must have seen four or five siksiq (Arctic ground squirrels) while we were walking around and many more burrows.

Look carefully - you can see the squirrel in the grass.

Many people think the Arctic is always snow and ice, but that’s a misconception. There is a wide array of plant life there – grass, lichen, moss, flowers, berries… Walking along, it’s actually very squishy, which I didn’t expect.

I also saw an old tent ring – these were used hundreds of years ago to hold down tent flaps before the influence of qalunaat and the introduction of year-round housing. The entrance can be seen on the right side of the photo.

The old remains of a tent ring

I hope this gave you a glimpse into what the tundra is like and what kind of diversity you can find there. I’ve uploaded some extra photos of our trip to Facebook and Flickr, so check them out.

Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator