Artists from Nunatsiavut explain pieces chosen for new Inuit Art Centre

·6 min read
Artists from Nunatsiavut explain pieces chosen for new Inuit Art Centre
INUA is the inaugural exhibition at Quamajuq, the new Inuit Art Centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The exhibit includes several remarkable works by artists from Nunatsiavut. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC - image credit)
INUA is the inaugural exhibition at Quamajuq, the new Inuit Art Centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The exhibit includes several remarkable works by artists from Nunatsiavut. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC - image credit)

For artist Glenn Gear, having his work included in the inaugural exhibition of Winnipeg's new Inuit Art Centre is a personal and professional honour.

INUA is the opening exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Qaumajuq, which houses the world's largest public collection of Inuit art.

"I'm deeply, deeply humbled and so excited for INUA," Gear told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning this week.

"I feel like this is the beginning of something really big. And hopefully this will be the first step to seeing more contemporary work by artists and more engagement of the Inuit within this cultural centre and within contemporary art."

The INUA exhibition — the word has two meanings: spirit or life force in many dialects across the Arctic, and is also an acronym for "Inuit Nunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut," or "Inuit moving forward together," according to the gallery —has been leaving visitors awestruck since opening March 27.

Gear, who lives in Montreal, is one of several artists with roots in Nunatsiavut to have work chosen for INUA. He was born in Corner Brook and has many family and relatives in Labrador. His father is an Inuk from Nunatsiavut.

"What's really fun about this show is that there are so many new media works," Gear said. "Of course there's still the traditional carving and printmaking, but there's also so much collage, there's different kinds of installation works, video works, sound pieces, lots of fashion and jewellery."

"Seeing that diversity of Inuit voices, it just does my heart so much good."

CBC asked artists from Nunatsiavut to tell us about their pieces that were chosen for the exhibition. You can hear four of them tell the story of their art in their own words by clicking the video below.

Michael Massie: Subtle-tea

Subtle-tea by Michael Massie.
Subtle-tea by Michael Massie.(Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Michael Massie was born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 1962 and became a renowned figure in Canadian art. His silverwork and sculptures, inspired in part by his Inuit heritage, have received national and international accolades, and in 2018 he was awarded the Order of Canada. His creative interpretations of teapots are among his best known works, including a 1997 piece he titled Subtle-tea.

"For me, it's not as tedious or meticulous as working with jewellery. It's a three-dimensional object, so it becomes much more interesting for me. They're not traditional, by no stretch. I'm using designs, sometimes they're based on ulus," said Massie, referring to a traditional Inuit knife.

"Where there are so many different ulu designs, sometimes I'll pick one out and play around with the pattern, just to see what kind of shape can come out of it.

"But each one, I'm always telling some sort of story."

Shirley Moorhouse: To Honour the Firekeepers

To Honour the Firekeepers by Shirley Moorhouse.
To Honour the Firekeepers by Shirley Moorhouse.(Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Contemporary artist Shirley Moorhouse was born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and has been widely recognized for her mixed media wall hangings. She has two pieces featured at INUA that show off the range of her talents in the medium.

"One is done in a more traditional work, basically hand-sewn smoked caribou skin with beadwork on it. The second one is a more contemporary piece, more electronically based to address issues of today," said Moorhouse.

"So I've taken apart an electronic keyboard, took that completely apart … and I cut it into the shape of a big trout."

Moorhouse says the keyboard-trout is a reference to testing of wild trout for methylmercury poisoning, a modern reality for Inuit in Nunatsiavut. But it also conjures memories of fishing freely with her mother as a child on those same rivers. Moorhouse wants people to be filled with their own complicated mix of memories when they take in her artwork.

"When you do, then your mind clicks into other places that you probably forgot you remembered," said Moorhouse. "It's not only my memory, but a big well of memory that I'm trying to just put a little snapshot into, and let other people join in."

Eldred Allen: Hopedale Mission Buildings and Salmon Factory

Hopedale Mission Buildings by Eldred Allen.
Hopedale Mission Buildings by Eldred Allen.(Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Eldred Allen of Rigolet is the owner of Bird's Eye Inc., a drone photography business where aviation and art collide.

Allen says he was asked to contribute to the exhibition by lead curator Heather Igloliorte, a fellow Labradorian.

"The two pieces that she chose that are going to be exhibited there are 3D models that I generated through my drone photography," said Allen. "I use my drone to capture images of certain locations, and I capture the data in a sequential manner so I can process it in a photogrammetry software, which generates three-dimensional data from two-dimensional images."

It's a high-tech process with stunning results, images so immersive they look like you could step inside them. The 3D models at INUA depict the Hopedale Mission buildings and an old salmon processing plant outside Rigolet.

"3D modelling using your drone is great because one of the great uses and purposes of it is you get to digitally preserve whatever location you're modelling," said Allen. "With climate change and stuff like that up in the North, it's a great way to digitally preserve important locations."

Glenn Gear: Iluani/Silami (It's Full of Stars)

Iluani/Silami (It’s Full of Stars) by Glenn Gear.
Iluani/Silami (It’s Full of Stars) by Glenn Gear.(Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Glenn Gear is an interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker based in Montreal. His contribution to INUA draws both on his time spent in Labrador, and modern cultural references such as the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

"This is a large-scale installation," said Gear. "This is basically a sea can, which is a large shipping container, into which I've installed a number of murals flanking the sides, and on the far wall there's a video projection with sound."

Iluani/Silami (It's Full of Stars) is about different interpretations of Labrador and its coastline, and some of the Inuit mythology of the area, he said.

"It's very much a layered space that's full of lore and full of myths, and kind of draws the viewer into the space in kind of a meditative way."

Bronson Jacque: The Warm-up Shack

Emerging artist Bronson Jacque grew up in Postville but moved away to work at the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric project. His painting at INUA is a diptych, featuring two mirror-opposite scenes; in the left panel, Jacque's father is depicted at his cabin, drinking a cup of tea. In the right panel, Bronson Jacque painted himself on the jobsite at Muskrat Falls, in a warm-up shack, also drinking a cup of tea.

"The meaning behind the painting is that there's a duality between the people who had to work in Muskrat Falls, to provide for their families, and what they would otherwise be doing," said Jacque. "Growing up, you'd always want to be respectful of the land, and make sure you took care of the land. And later on in life, you're in a situation where the only way to get by is to take part in the destruction of that land.

"My piece is basically a representation of the tension between what you want to be doing and what you had to be doing at the time."

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