Students showcase artwork inspired by Inuit storytelling tradition at Winnipeg Art Gallery

A group of students from Sister MacNamara School who learned about the Inuit tradition of story quilts as part of their social studies curriculum got to showcase their artwork at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on Tuesday.

Grade 4 and 5 students at Sister MacNamara were invited to the WAG to display hand-stitched story quilts

Student Ahmed Elahmer made this piece called Good Life, telling the story of a bombing he and his brother experienced in their home country of Syria. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The Winnipeg Art Gallery's Inuit Art Centre is still a couple of years away from opening — but on Tuesday, a group of Winnipeg elementary school students got to show off their own art, inspired by Inuit tradition, at the WAG.

Grade 4 and 5 students from Sister MacNamara School learned about the Inuit tradition of story quilts as part of their social studies curriculum. Inspired by that, each student sewed one of their own stories onto a piece of fabric and recorded themselves telling that story out loud.

"Some are favourite stories from their childhood, some are personal deep memoir-style stories, and some are ones they made up," said art instructor Brenna Bacchus.
Grade 6 student Jesse Bruneau, left, and art instructor Brenna Bacchus, right, stand next to Bruneau's piece called Fatty Legs, based on a book of the same name the students read. The story is about an Inuit girl who went to a residential school. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"We looked at a lot of different Indigenous story quilts for them to get ideas of how they are told, because it's very different from what they are used to with picture books," she said.

A QR code attached to each story quilt square allows anyone with a tablet or smartphone to scan the code to download audio of the students telling their story orally.

"We really wanted to make it not about writing stories, because kids get asked to write a lot, and that was not the tradition that they are studying," said Bacchus.

"We really wanted to give them the chance to try a different medium and express themselves in a different way."
A group of students from Sister MacNamara School got to showcase their artwork at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on Tuesday. 1:51

The students' art was on display at the WAG throughout the day Tuesday.

The gallery's latest exhibit, Insurgence/Resurgence, is the WAG's largest-ever exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art and includes 12 new commissions from artists across Canadian territories and nations.

A planned $65-million Inuit Art Centre, expected to open in 2020, will be one of the largest exhibition spaces in North America dedicated specifically to Indigenous art when it opens.

The world's largest public collection of Inuit art — more than more than 13,000 pieces — will be displayed in the upcoming centre.