Qaumajuq's 1st exhibit includes art with 'priceless' family connections for all-Inuit curatorial team

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is launching a virtual tour of Qaumajuq, its new 40,000-square-foot-space devoted to Inuit art, on Thursday night. The all-Inuit curatorial team has familial connections to several pieces in the inaugural exhibit INUA.

2-day virtual tour, celebration ahead of Saturday's public opening of WAG's new Inuit Art Centre

Heather Igloliorte, lead curator of Quamajuq's inaugural exhibit INUA, stands by a caribou-hide bag made years ago by her grandmother. It will be featured in the first exhibit at the Inuit Art Centre. (John Einarson/CBC)

Heather Igloliorte and three other Inuit co-curators have spent the past couple years putting together a stunning display of contemporary Inuit art in the Winnipeg Art Gallery's new space, Qaumajuq.

But beyond the big paintings, colourful wall hangings, soapstone carvings and immersive mixed media works that fill the third-floor gallery space of the WAG's new Inuit Art Centre, there is one piece that holds a special place in Igloliorte's heart: a beaded caribou hide bag made by her grandmother. 

"When we were here and I saw it being unpacked for the first time, I burst into tears, because she passed away when I was a little girl," Igloliorte said, standing in front of a glass case housing the bag.

"For me to get to have that tangible connection to her again was priceless."

That bag is one of several pieces with familial connections to members of the all-Inuit curatorial team responsible for INUA, the inaugural exhibit at Qaumajuq.

This caribou hide bag made by Suzannah Igloliorte, grandmother of lead curator Dr. Heather Igloliorte, is on display at Quamajuq for the inaugural exhibit INUA. (John Einarson/CBC)

The WAG's new centre devoted to Inuit art officially opens to in-person viewing on Saturday, but the gallery is launching a two-day virtual tour Thursday, with performances and ceremonies of the new 40,000-square-foot-space.

CBC News live streamed the first event Thursday night here at 6:30 p.m. CT. The Friday event can be watched at the same time on the WAG's website.

The name of the opening exhibit, INUA, translates to "life force" or "spirit" in numerous Arctic dialects, according to the gallery's website. It's also an acronym that translates to Inuit Nunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut — or "Inuit Moving Forward Together."

Qilak, the main gallery on Qaumajuq's third floor, includes 22 skylights that let in natural light from above. INUA, the inaugural exhibit, opens to the general public on March 27. (Lindsay Reid)

Early on in the process of picking and choosing which work to feature in INUA, the curatorial team decided they wanted to honour their ancestors and families by including works from their relatives.

"We wanted to place ourselves on that trajectory of who our ancestors are and who we will become ancestors for," said Igloliorte.

Qaumajuq is home to some 14,000 Inuit artworks, not including 7,400 on long-term loan from the Nunavut government — the largest public Inuit art collection in the world.

Given that high number, and the fact that there are about 65,000 Inuit Canada-wide, Igloliorte says there's a good chance many Inuit who visit will see something on display from their home community or someone they're related to.

WATCH | Qaumajuq gallery gives northern artists a southern home:

Qaumajuq gallery a chance for the Inuit to be seen beyond the North

2 years ago
Duration 2:04
Despite the complicated relationship between the Inuit and Winnipeg, many see the opening of the Qaumajuq gallery, the world's largest collection of contemporary Inuit art, at the Winnipeg Art Museum as a chance for the Inuit to be seen outside the North.

When you enter the main entrance of the third-floor gallery, one of the first installations you see includes four works, organized from west to east in terms of the four regions of the North they come from.

The all-Inuit team of guest curators of Qaumajuq's INUA are, from left: Kablusiak, Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Asinnajaq, and head curator Heather Igloliorte. (Supplied by Winnipeg Art Gallery)

Each has a connection to the four co-curators: Kablusiak, who is Inuvialuit from the Western Arctic; Krista Ulujuk Zawadski from Nunavut; Asinnajaq from Nunavik in the north of Quebec; and Igloliorte, a Concordia University professor who hails from Nunatsiavut.

The bag Igloliorte's grandmother made is on display thanks to social media. A man reached out to Igloliorte online and said a family member bought it years ago, and he agreed to loan it to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for INUA.

After the journey that bag and all of the works have gone through to get to the Prairies, Igloliorte said she and her co-curators are grateful they get to showcase where they come from, through art.

"Everyone is just really excited and thrilled to get to see this work here, like I think anyone [would be] coming into a museum and getting to see … work made by their family exhibited.

"I think that's really meaningful."

These displays of dolls and a carving have familial connections to INUA co-curators Kablusiak, Krista Ulujuk Zawadski and Asinnajaq. The creators of the works are, from left, Ella Nasogaluak-Brown, Victor Sammurtok and Elisapee Inukpuk. (John Einarson/CBC)


  • We initially reported that the Winnipeg Art Gallery's 14,000-piece collection of Inuit artwork includes 7,400 pieces on loan from Nunavut. In fact, Qaumajuq houses 7,400 artworks on loan from Nunavut in addition to the 14,000 artworks in the WAG collection.
    Mar 26, 2021 12:59 PM CT


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

With files from Stephanie Cram