The Issue: Arts in Nunavut
We Say: Build capacity

The largest public collection of Inuit art is finally ready to be showcased to the world, and it’s in Winnipeg.

Qaumajuq, the Inuit Art Centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Lindsay Reid/Winnipeg Art Gallery photo

It’s in a beautiful building, and the programming has been Inuit-led from the start.
Qaumajuq, the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s (WAG) newest addition, is a 40,000-square-foot cultural campus that holds close to 14,000 pieces of Inuit art, including carvings, drawings, prints, textiles, and new media. This includes more than 7,385 objects from the Government of Nunavut’s (GN) fine arts collection, on loan due to “space restrictions.”

The inaugural exhibit, INUA brings together works created by more than 90 Inuit artists from across Inuit Nunangat as well as some living in the south, circumpolar colleagues and collaborators from Alaska and Greenland.

It’s encouraging to see WAG acknowledge the role colonialism has played in its collections and its commitment to work with artists to move forward in reconciliation.

According to WAG, “the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) has long been present in Winnipeg and was instrumental to the early development of the global Inuit art market. In the 1950s, carvings were purchased at fur trading posts in Inukjuak, Puvirnituq, Kinngait, and several other Inuit communities. Since the 1950s, Inuit have owned and operated artist co-operatives … Carvings came south by boat in the late summer or fall and were sold … across the country. Large private collections were formed in Winnipeg because of access to the bulk of the carvings that came to the HBC headquarters in the city.”

Qaumajuq’s section of the WAG website states: “Our curators … maintain strong relationships with artists by visiting their homes, workspaces, and communities, and spending time with them on the land. We purchase works directly from the artists in their communities, from their co-operatives or through the global art market. In addition, we collaborate with other museums, galleries and Arctic co-ops to exhibit artworks on loan.”

This is a wonderful achievement, and the curators of Qaumajuq must be commended on the hard work to bring this goal to fruition, a bridge “between cultures, between North and South, and between generations.”

Amplifying Inuit voices wherever possible is crucial, and having this cultural space in southern Canada will hopefully spread awareness of the amazing things being done by Nunavummiut artists.

Building capacity in-territory is the next big step for art in Nunavut.

Qaggiavuut has been advocating for performance space in Nunavut for many years now, and while progress is being made toward that goal, they can’t get to the home stretch without dedicated funding from the GN.

Nunavummiut artists and artisans deserve support at any level we can give them.
There are numerous smaller-scale initiatives than the $52.4-million expansion to WAG such as the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop in Kinngait, completed in 2018, and the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit in Iqaluit, the only official museum in the territory – housed somewhat ironically in an old Hudson’s Bay storage facility. These treasured buildings celebrate and support culture and heritage, but a greater push is still needed to build capacity for art in a territory with such a rich past and present.

WAG says that “fewer than two per cent of Canadians will ever set foot in the North.”

Maybe we should give them more reasons to visit.

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